French farmers, truckers block roads in Calais migrant camp demonstration

Farmers join harbour workers, truck drivers, storekeepers and residents to attend a protest demonstration on the A16 motorway against the migrant situation in Calais, France.
Farmers join harbour workers, truck drivers, storekeepers and residents to attend a protest demonstration on the A16 motorway against the migrant situation in Calais, France.PHOTO: REUTERS

CALAIS (AFP) - Angry French truckers and farmers blocked the main routes in and out of the port of Calais on Monday to call for the closure of the sprawling "Jungle" migrant camp.

Around 70 trucks mounted a "go-slow" on the A16 motorway - the main artery for freight and passengers heading for Britain either via the Channel Tunnel or on board ferries from the port.

Dozens of farmers on tractors joined up with the trucks, slowing traffic to a crawl, while around 400 people staged a demonstration in the middle of the motorway.

Authorities said that despite long tailbacks at the start of the protest, a system of detours prevented widespread disruption.

But the demonstrators said they were digging in for the night.

"We're not moving," said Frederic Van Gansbeke, who represents businesses and shop-owners in Calais.

"We're waiting for the government's answers, especially help for businesses that are in trouble." The Jungle, a squalid camp of makeshift tents and shelters, is home to some 7,000 migrants but charities say the number might be as high as 10,000 after an influx this summer.

Migrants from the camp sometimes use tree branches to create roadblocks to slow trucks heading for Britain, their destination of choice.

When the trucks slow down, migrants try to clamber into the trailers to stow away aboard.

Drivers say migrants and people trafficking gangs have attacked their vehicles with metal bars.

The drivers say despite the deployment of 2,100 officers around the port, the police are overstretched and unable to secure the roads.

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," he said.

"This demonstration is to shout loud and clear about how fed up road hauliers are," said David Sagnard, head of the local branch of the National Federation of Road Hauliers.

"What we're calling for today are security measures so we can drive on the A16 motorway and on the port road in complete safety," he added.

A banner attached to one of the trucks said: "We're truck drivers, not people smugglers." The town's mayor, Natacha Bouchart, who joined the protest wearing an "I love Calais" T-shirt, claims the Jungle may soon contain as many as 15,000 migrants within months unless it is razed.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve promised during a visit to the Jungle on Friday to close the camp down "as quickly as possible" but said it would be done in stages.

Disgruntled Calais residents want the authorities to set a date for the entire camp to be cleared.

Bars and restaurants in Calais - which is also the main gateway to France for millions of British holidaymakers - say their trade has been severely hit by the presence of the Jungle.

"The government must declare Calais an economic emergency zone" read one banner at the demonstration.

French authorities have made repeated efforts to close the Jungle.

Earlier this year, authorities cleared shelters in parts of the site in a bid to persuade migrants to move into more permanent accommodation or camps elsewhere on France's northern coast.

Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is bidding to secure the right-wing nomination to win back the presidency next year, has called for Britain to take responsibility for the migrants over the Channel.

Last week France and Britain pledged to work together to increase security at the port of Calais and to improve the humanitarian situation for the Jungle's residents.

In an attempt to encourage migrants to leave the Jungle, France is expected to create places for an additional 8,000 people in accommodation centres around the country.

The population of the Jungle includes large numbers of Sudanese, Afghan, Somali and Iraqi residents.