France struggles to cut down migrant 'Jungle'

Policemen standing guard as agents and bulldozers dismantled shacks yesterday in the "Jungle" migrant camp in the French northern port city of Calais. An estimated 3,700 migrants are said to be in the camp, although humanitarian associations working
Policemen standing guard as agents and bulldozers dismantled shacks yesterday in the "Jungle" migrant camp in the French northern port city of Calais. An estimated 3,700 migrants are said to be in the camp, although humanitarian associations working with them say the number is much higher.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Riot police provide protection as bid to tear down shanty town resumes after clashes

PARIS • Demolition teams returned to the northern French port of Calais yesterday supported by riot police to continue dismantling more makeshift shelters in the migrant camp known as the "Jungle".

Overnight, riot police fired tear gas at migrants who were hurling stones at the demolition squads.

The authorities say the migrants must move to shipping containers on another part of the site. But many fear this will require them to claim asylum in France, and give up their hopes of travelling to Britain.

The move to tear down the tents and ramshackle huts in one part of the camp took place after a court order last week which allowed the government to move forward with its plans but the makeshift restaurants, places of worship and other community areas in the slum would have to remain untouched.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the authorities would not conduct a "brutal evacuation" of the camp, but as the eviction proceeded on Monday, some migrants protested by torching some shacks and throwing rocks at police officers in riot gear, who responded with tear gas and water cannon to push them back.

About 100 officers were deployed to safeguard the site.

Mr Francois Guennoc, an activist with the Auberge des Migrants, an association in Calais that helps migrants, said the government had not delivered on its promise to calmly evacuate the camp.

"The destruction of the shanty town is not the solution," said Mr Guennoc. "That won't remove their project to go to Great Britain," he said of the migrants.

  • Welcome to the Jungle

  • The Jungle is a migrant camp that was established in vacant land, which was formerly a toxic waste dump, near the port of Calais.

    The camp houses an estimated 3,700 migrants from the Middle East and North Africa who live in tents and shacks. Among the migrants are around 200 women, and 650 children, of whom two-thirds are unaccompanied.

    The French government's aim is to have only up to 2,000 migrants in the Calais camp. Conditions in the camp are squalid, with poor access to water and sanitation.

    Still, the Jungle is a magnet for migrants aiming to head to Britain by stowing away on vehicles leaving the ferry port in Calais for Dover or by sneaking onto trains travelling across to Britain.

    Many migrants have paid smugglers to bring them to Calais with hopes for a better life in Britain where they can try to work illegally or seek asylum.

A group of humanitarian bodies and migrants has appealed against the judge's ruling with the Council of State, France's highest administrative court, but the appeal does not suspend the dismantling operations, and it could take weeks or months before a decision is reached.

"We are carrying out our orders so that the migrants leave the camp and we will continue this work... so that the destruction work can continue calmly and that the migrants are not under pressure from the No Borders activists," said local authority head Fabienne Buccio.

The Pas-de-Calais prefecture said the authorities were continuing to try to persuade migrants to move to a state-run centre next to the camp where they would be housed in refurbished shipping containers, or to other migrant reception centres in France.

It accused "extremist activists" of "intimidating" migrants into refusing resettlement options and said police had been deployed to ensure the safety of migrants, state workers and employees of the company hired to do the dismantling, which is expected to last several weeks.

An estimated 3,700 migrants are in the camp, although humanitarian associations working with them say the number is much higher.

Most are trying to reach Britain, where they have family or community ties, have a better understanding of the language, and harbour hopes of having easier access to the job market. The migrants sneak aboard lorries and ferries crossing the Channel daily.

The dismantling of Jungle comes ahead of a meeting tomorrow between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron in Amiens, France. The camp in Calais has become a critical issue in relations between the two countries and in the wider European migration crisis.

Britain has put substantial pressure on France to stem the flow of migrants getting across the Channel, and has funded a huge increase in security measures around the port and tunnel in Calais.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 02, 2016, with the headline 'France struggles to cut down migrant 'Jungle''. Print Edition | Subscribe