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Migrants and Activists Face Charges After Police Forced to Intervene During Calais Protest

The storming of a ferry in the French port of Calais took place at the end of a largely peaceful demonstration on Saturday that was organized by some 20 activist groups under the banner "Refugees Welcome."
Photo by Frederik Sadones/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Six migrants and two members of the No Border activist collective appeared in court on Monday in the northern French city of Boulogne-sur-Mer, two days after they were arrested for storming a ferry in the nearby port of Calais.

The eight defendants asked the prosecutor for extra time to prepare their defenses, and the hearing was postponed to February 22. In the meantime, the six migrants have been remanded in custody and the two activists have been banned from returning to the region.

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The storming of the ferry took place on Saturday at the end of a largely peaceful demonstration organized by some 20 activist groups under the banner "Refugees Welcome."

Hundreds joined the pro-migrant rally from Paris, with many demonstrators traveling to Calais on buses chartered by activists.

Video: Hundreds of migrants & refugees break into — Phil Caller (@Phil_Caller)January 23, 2016

"The town was against this protest," Deputy Mayor of Calais Emmanuel Agius told VICE News. "We knew what might happen, who would be taking part, and we warned the prefecture. But they didn't listen to us."

Some 2,000 protesters marched into central Calais from the "Jungle," a sprawling slum that is home to more than 4,000 migrants, to demand open borders and better living conditions for refugees.

On Sunday, footage circulated of two men clashing with protesters and migrants outside their home in the city center. After hurling insults and objects at the demonstrators, one of the men is seen brandishing a rifle, which he later brings inside the house.

"Thankfully, it was a fake weapon," said Agius, who fears "other desperate acts if nothing is done." A spokesperson for the prefecture confirmed to local media that the weapon was indeed a fake, and that authorities were investigating the incident.

The protest ended officially at 4:30pm on the Place d'Armes, Calais's main square, where some protesters vandalized a statue of General de Gaulle and his wife. According to local news channel France 3 Nord Pas-de-Calais, a group of individuals "wearing black" defaced the statue with the words "Nik la France" ("Fuck France"), painted in orange letters.

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ANIK FRANCE /// FUCK FRANCE /// against all states and anything that places borders between us! — Calais Solidarity (@calaisolidarity)January 23, 2016

Around 5pm, a group of several hundred people broke through a cordon of riot police and into the ferry port through a hole in the fence. Some of the migrants and activists made their way onto a docked ferry.

The port had to be temporarily closed Saturday but was up and running again by 8:30pm, after the end of the police intervention.

In a statement released Sunday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said that 350 migrants had been removed from the port and 35 individuals had been arrested by border police. Nine of those arrested were activists from the No Border collective who were taken into custody on vandalism charges. Fifteen people were detained, the minister said.

On Sunday, local residents responded with their own demonstration, which was led by Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart.

Bouchart and some 2,000 protesters — many local business owners among them — marched under a banner that read "My City is beautiful, my Port is beautiful."

"This demonstration allowed us to show a positive image of Calais," said Agius, who said that business in the port city was hurting because of the ongoing migrant crisis.

Related: Migrants Are Struggling to Survive the Frozen Hell of Refugee Camps in Calais

Following a "crisis meeting" with Bouchart on Monday, Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, called on French President Francois Hollande to send military backup to Calais.

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Bertrand and Bouchard will meet Cazeneuve and Justice Minister Christiane Taubira on February 3, to discuss the weekend's events and the introduction of new security measures.

"We have clear requests: we have long been asking for a military intervention," said Agius. He would like to see troops deployed in Calais like they were in and around Paris in the wake of the November 13 terror attacks.

British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn visited the Calais Jungle and the Grande-Synthe camp in neighboring Dunkirk over the weekend.

Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Corbyn urged the British government to permit 3,000 migrants who are stuck in Calais to enter the UK. Corbyn told reporters that the UK should be "doing its part" to help with the crisis.

Follow Pierre-Louis on Twitter: @pierrelouis_c