This report is part of a two-sectioned series that focus on the current situation of refugees in the French cities Ouistreham and Caen.
It is evening. We are three people sitting on the curb, that surrounds a turning circle. We are watching the ducks coming out of the ship canal, that goes right next to it. They are fighting the Seagulls to get the pieces of bread and rice, that have been left on the ground.
After a while Amar the one of us that is here in the north of France for the longest time, starts to talk about his day today in Ouistreham. Together with his Cousin and five others he succeeded to get on the back of a truck without being seen. Almost all seven of them got through the control unnoticed, but then the police caught him, his cousin and one other guy eventually and made them leave the truck. The other four are now on their way to UK, Amar adds with a smile on his face.
This is often called and described as “the game“ against the police, for that also against the French state, by many refugees. In Ouistreham it is “played“ two to three times a day. Every time the cars, buses and trucks come to the town to get on a ferry to England, you can see many police officers heavily armed and people from the French military. In almost all the cases, the police seems to be the „winner“. Stories as the one Amar just told me are very rare.
Later, we are talking about what happens or could happen if the police found you in one of the trucks. Amar says that most of the time they are pretty relaxed and just send you away. But sometimes he was also put onto a bus with some others. Afterwards, they were brought to Italy and got sent out somewhere. Other refugees spoke multiple times of people who were holding on to a moving truck and the police used pepper spray until they would let go of the truck.
The situation and all the problems its causing to the refugees is not new.
Another big problem in this town that counts 9.000 habitants, is that there is no official place for the 200 refugees to stay over night. Because of this, most of them have no other choice but to live in the streets. Many decide to sleep on some grass next to the main road that leads into the town, to see all the vehicles coming at any time. If people set up a tent somewhere, they will probably get forced to leave with pepper spray or are brought to prison for 45 days. All specific information you will find in this text about interaction between police officers and refugees, date back to conversations with various refugees.
The situation and all the problems its causing to the refugees is not new. That’s why a lot of people living in Ouistreham or nearby, started to organize themselves to support the large amount of new homeless people in their town. There are supporters coming everyday to the turning circle we are sitting on, to distribute breakfast and dinner to everyone who is coming there. On cold days warm clothes, shoes and blankets are distributed as well.
Together with five other people, I drive to the distribution. Alex who is explaining everything to me and is happy to answer all my questions, explains to me that they provide breakfast and tea. Often, they get bread from a local baker he didn’t sell that day and also vegetables and fruits are often received from other supporters in Ouistreham. Another important aspect of the distribution seems to be the two shower tents and camping showers. There are also fresh towels and underwear and all the other donated clothes and shoes. Right now, as it is about to get winter, people are very much in need of any stuff that keep them warm, says Alex as we arrive on the turning point.
„We are individual persons that are united in their fight for open borders and more self organization.“
With a sparkle in her eyes, Alex presents to me a green box including a construction with two car batteries. „With this everyone can charge their phones. It is very crucial to have power on the phone at least most of the time, because they are often the most important source of information and the only way to contact family and friends.“ Unfortunately, they often break down because of the daily attempts to overcome national borders. That is, why donations of old phones (Smartphones or not) with charging cables are very much appreciated, Alex assures me.
„We are no association, no NGO (Non-Government-Organization) and no other sort of group that has any kind of name. We are individual persons that are united in their fight for open borders and more self organization“, Alex tells me before we leave our spot at the curb. Then we help the others with washing the dishes, putting the shower tents in the sun to dry them and pack all the other stuff we set up and put it into the car.
Also the seagulls and ducks are done eating now, so they leave the place to go back to their waters. That is when the rats come out of their holes that are located between the channel and the turning circles. They eat everything, the birds did not find or did not want and free the place from the last leftovers. At the time we leave the turning circle behind us, you cannot tell that there were 150 people recently gathering to eat, to take a shower, to charge their phones and to play around with a football.
The author wants to stay anonymous.
Cover picture is kindly approved by the author.