David Chazan, Telegraph (London), September 7, 2014
Far-right extremists led hundreds of protesters in an anti-migrant demonstration in Calais on Sunday night which saw riot police step in to end a tense confrontation.
The stand-off between the protesters and a group of about 50 left-wing activists highlighted rising tensions in Calais over the presence of up to 1,500 migrants, mainly from Eritrea and other impoverished African countries, who are trying to reach Britain illegally.
Dozens of shaven-headed protesters ran towards the left-wingers, who had tried to disrupt the rally by hundreds of far-right activists outside the imposing red-brick town hall, before riot police intervened.
The anti-migrant group was led by an activist holding a blue flare and wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Charlemagne 1944”–a reference to an SS division that was composed of French volunteers.
Those around him sang La Marseillaise and chanted “bleu, blanc, rouge” (blue, white, red), the colours of the French flag.
The rally was organised by Sauvons Calais (Let’s Save Calais), which describes itself as a nationalist anti-immigration group.
Some demonstrators performed what looked like Nazi salutes as they were addressed by leaders of several far-right organisations, including Yvan Benedetti of L’Oeuvre Française, which was banned last year on the grounds of racism and anti-semitism.
Kévin Reche, the fresh-faced 20-year-old spokesman for Sauvons Calais, denied that the group had neo-Nazi or fascist links.
“We’re nationalists and we want to stop the immigrant invasion not just in Calais but in the whole of Europe,” he said. “The migrants should be deported from French territory and placed in closed detention centres until they can be sent home.”
Mr Reche suggested that the centres could be funded by charities that feed and clothe the migrants, a suggestion dismissed by aid groups.
“It’s not our job to lock people up,” said Philippe Wannesson of Passeurs d’Hospitalités, a group that helps the migrants.
“The people of Calais are divided on migrants,” he said. “Some cafés don’t let them in but others allow them to use their toilets even if they don’t buy a drink.”
Some local shopkeepers object to the migrants and blame them for thefts and muggings.
Jean-Baptiste, 43, the owner of a grocery, said: “They haven’t got any money and they’re desperate. I’m not right-wing but they’re increasingly aggressive and we have to find a solution for them. They can’t stay here and Britain doesn’t want them.”
Banners unfurled at the rally showed white supremacist symbols with slogans such as “Let’s kick them out”.
The presence of the migrants has fuelled support for the far-right, which has risen in France amid the economic crisis and growing disillusionment with the Socialist government of President François Hollande. It has also caused tension between Britain and France, with the mayor of Calais demanding that the British authorities do more to stop the influx.
Mr Reche poured scorn on the British offer to send the security fences used to protect world leaders at last week’s Nato summit to Calais to help France stop the illegal immigrants.
Hundreds of migrants stormed the ferry terminal last week in a bid to reach Britain and the Home Office says the barriers in Calais are too easy to climb.
However, Mr Reche said: “There’s no fence high enough to keep out migrants”, describing their presence as “unbearable”.
“Women are scared to go out at night,” he claimed.
Mr Reche, who left the far-right Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, after a row with leaders who accused him of performing a Hitler salute, acknowledged that he had a “Swastika-like cross” tattooed on his chest, but said it was not “intended as a Nazi symbol”.