Is it a criminal offence to offer a cup of tea?

Is it a criminal offence to offer a cup of tea?


Written by: Harmit Athwal

On 6 February, French riot police raided a warehouse in Calais and arrested activists who had been providing humanitarian assistance to destitute migrants in the area.

Just days before the raid, campaigners held a press conference in London to announce the new space in Calais. The project, organised by local activists and housed in a warehouse, funded entirely by donations, was to be a safe space for migrants to express themselves and a venue for basic humanitarian support.

Alexandra, an activist from Calais Migrant Solidarity told the press conference how the situation for migrants had seriously deteriorated since the destruction of the ‘jungle’ (the makeshift camps which had been home to migrants from war-torn countries across the world) in September 2009. She spoke about the existence people eked out in the area, sleeping rough in sub-zero temperatures, the police ‘hunting migrants night and day’ with regular raids on squats, arrests at ports, train stations and on the beach. In a recent incident police officers had poured cold water on blankets used by Afghan boys. Despite draconian French laws forbidding the sheltering of migrants, she vowed activists would ‘do anything possible to keep the project running’. Thomas, a No Borders activist, asked how it could be a criminal offence to offer a cup of tea.

On Saturday 6 February, police attempted to stop people from gaining access to the warehouse, by sealing off all the roads. However about 100 migrants from Afghanistan, Iran, Kurdistan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia with their supporters managed to enter the building. Police stopped anyone else getting in but allowed people to leave. By the following day, according to the Migrant Solidarity website: ‘As the numbers began to dwindle, more and more police arrived. The remaining migrants were told to leave or be arrested. All left. After the migrants had left, riot police threatened to smash their way in to the building after completely surrounding it, and blocking the view of the media by using two large vehicles. Riot police smashed the door to the warehouse and all the activists who were inside the building were arrested. One British activist received ten stitches in hospital. The centre has now been welded shut. A legal challenge is now in the pipe line.’

Alex Parks, an activist commented: ‘The authorities in Calais have been trying to remove migrants from Calais for years without success, because they are in denial about the terminal reality of the un-equal world we live in. This is not over, solidarity and resistance for the right to freedom of movement will continue in Calais.’

Read more about the events at the weekend at the Calais Migrant Solidarity website.

Related links

Calais Migrant Solidarity

No Borders

London No Borders

Download an IRR report on how those who seek to act in solidarity with the undocumented are being criminalised (pdf file, 180kb)

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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