CALAIS • French farmers and truckers have launched a joint operation to block main routes in and out of the port of Calais, to call for the closure of the vast "Jungle" migrant camp there.
At least 70 trucks and tractors began a "go-slow" yesterday on the main motorway for freight and passengers heading for Britain either via the Channel Tunnel or the port.
Farmers were expected to join the demonstration later on their tractors and organisers hoped for up to 500 people to join a "human chain" protest in the city's main stadium later yesterday.
Calais residents would also form a human chain along the port road, said protest organisers.
Residents and businesses have increasingly complained that the situation is having an impact on them with the local authorities unable to control the situation.
"We've had no answers, so we're blocking things up," said Mr Frederic Van Gansbeke, who represents businesses and shop owners.
Mr Nicolas Lotin, who runs a logistics company in nearby Boulogne-sur-Mer, said: "Every day, we have to wonder whether our working day will be ruined, whether a migrant will sneak under the truck's canvas.
"If the goods are damaged, they have to be immediately transported back to the home depot."
Mr David Sagnard, president of the FNTR national truck drivers' federation, said: "Before, it was just attempts to get on trucks.
"Now there is looting and wilful destruction, tarpaulins are slashed, goods stolen or destroyed."
Thousands of people fleeing war and poverty are waiting in Calais for a chance to reach Britain, regularly trying to force their way onto vehicles heading there by ferry and rail tunnel. Migrants from the "Jungle" often create their own roadblocks to slow trucks, hoping to stow away aboard. The attempts have continued in the face of extra security staff and the construction of high fences along road and rail routes.
And in recent weeks, there have been reports of criminal gangs joining attempts to get migrants into Britain, said the BBC. It quoted The Mail on Sunday reporting that items have been thrown at cars to make them crash, in an attempt to divert attention away from migrants boarding vehicles.
The BBC said it had filmed last month suspected people-smugglers blocking the highway to Calais with a tree and threatening drivers with violence.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazneneuve vowed last week to close the "Jungle" camp "as rapidly as possible". France has made repeated efforts to shut down the camp of tents and temporary shelters, which the authorities say is currently home to nearly 7,000 migrants following a surge of new arrivals in recent months.
Charities say the real figure is as high as 10,000.
Fears of growing numbers of migrants, partly fuelled by scenes from Calais, were a key issue influencing Britain's recent vote to quit the European Union.
Some French opposition politicians have also called for the ditching of an agreement under which border controls take place on the French side of the sea, saying Britain should handle the problem.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS