“We are used to always having to adapt when we are put in the way” – Liberation

The Pas-de-Calais prefecture now prohibits associations not mandated by the state from distributing food to migrants in certain areas of the city center. The president of the Auberge des migrants, François Guennoc, points to the irresponsible attitude of the authorities.

The truce was only short-lived. Since August 14, the prefecture of Pas-de-Calais has again prohibited associations not mandated by the State from distributing foodstuffs in certain areas of the center of Calais. The decree was renewed on Monday and will be in force until September 6. Similar measures had already been taken during the health crisis, from September 2020. First advancing the argument of the risk of transmission of the virus, the prefecture had renewed this decree every month, until April of this year. In total, 31 streets were affected by the old decrees, compared to 2 now. This may not seem like much, but the associations expect the system to be extended in the coming weeks. For the president of the Auberge des migrants association, François Guennoc, this strategy is part of a real “usury policy” implemented by the state.

Only associations mandated by the State are authorized to distribute food to migrants in Calais. Are they sufficient?

In terms of food distribution, access to water and showers, there is only one: active living. It could be enough because there are a lot of volunteers and stock. The problem is that these state distribution services are far from places of life. Today, their nearest water and food point is 5 kilometers from the city center! So the most vulnerable people, those who have just arrived and those who do not necessarily have access to information are completely forgotten. If all the other associations stopped distributing in the city center, most people in need would have neither food nor drink. Especially since by combining our efforts, we reach 1,500 people, or almost all of the refugees present in Calais.

What reasons are given for blocking aid from associations?

There is always a good excuse because, according to them, the state distributions are enough and there is no need for other militants. When the prefectural decrees started during the second confinement, they used the health argument. Besides that, they also highlighted the fact that the distributions caused disturbances to public order. But the bans are part of a larger policy, in the so-called “zero fixation point” strategy, which aims to make living conditions in the city of Calais hell. All fundamental rights are flouted there: from access to housing to access to healthcare. But making Calais an unlivable city will not work, people will still want to pass through it to reach England.

How will you adapt to the bans?

We will never stop, we just have to adapt our methods to best meet the needs [des exilés]. We’re going to have to move around and rack our brains to find strategic places to distribute. We are used to always having to adapt when we are put in the way.

In your opinion, is this proof that the State is not taking its responsibilities in the face of the situation of migrants?

Absolutely. 135 euros for a glass of water is contrary to the principle of fraternity. It is not a responsible attitude to hinder the action of people of good will. Above all, the State makes no effort: last year, the mediator Didier Leschi came following the hunger strike of several activists. Among other things, he demanded a social diagnosis before each eviction, a period of forty-five minutes to allow people to take their belongings and the opening of a shed to allow them to sleep during the winter. These measures did not even last two weeks.

On Monday, the British authorities announced that 1,300 migrants crossed the Channel illegally, what to think of this record figure?

The figure is not surprising. Admittedly, the images of the boat departures are impressive and give the impression that more people are passing by. In truth, it is above all a change in dynamics: where before 2020, the majority of crossings were made by truck, in 2021 we had a large increase in crossings by boat. Reaching England by truck is more and more complicated, while the hundred kilometers of the Opal Coast is difficult for the authorities to control. People therefore take more risks by going by boat, and this will not stop until there are safe, legal passageways and a dignified welcome policy in France.

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