French judge views Calais 'jungle' before migrants' appeal

Migrants walk in the mud in the southern part of a camp for migrants called the "jungle" in Calais.
Migrants walk in the mud in the southern part of a camp for migrants called the "jungle" in Calais.PHOTO: REUTERS

CALAIS (REUTERS) - A French judge toured a crowded shanty town known as "the jungle" near the northern port of Calais before her court hears an appeal on Tuesday against a government decision to demolish half of the camp for migrants trying to reach Britain.

The administrative tribunal in regional capital Lille was to decide whether closing part of the site would violate human rights after several local charities and migrants requested a temporary injunction to halt the planned evacuation.

Judge Valerie Quemener viewed the jumble of tents and wooden shacks and was shown plans for the partial dismantling as well as a site meant to accommodate some of the evacuated migrants in converted shipping containers.

She met several charity representatives but declined to speak to journalists.

Refugees living in the south part of the camp were ordered last week to leave the area before 8pm (1900 GMT) on Tuesday after which authorities will be empowered to remove remaining tents and trash, if necessary by force.

The interior ministry says the move will affect 800 to 1,000 people but local activists said at least 3,400 migrants including women and young children will have to clear the area.

There was little sign of anyone preparing to move out of the southern part of the camp. "There are more than 3,000 people who are living here, we have schools here, mosques, everything inside the 'jungle'. So it becomes like a small city and they (authorities) want to end this," Sikender, from Afghanistan, told Reuters.

In Lille, the court was due to hear appeals by 250 migrants and 10 associations against the interior ministry order to dismantle the southern part of the zone. It was not clear whether the tribunal would rule immediately or adjourn a decision for a few days.

"People are obviously awaiting the (court) decision," said Dominique Bernard, who works with Medecins Sans Frontières.

"They are talking about it but are not expecting a great outcome, I can see they feel very resigned," she said.

Altogether some 4,000 people are believed to live in the"jungle", down from some 6,000 in December. The authorities would like to see the number fall to around 2,000.

The container park opened last month has a total capacity of 1,500, along with an existing building intended to accommodate some 500 women and children.

Thousands of people have converged on Calais over the past year trying to reach Britain where most want to resettle. Many have tried to force their way into the Channel Tunnel or stow away aboard goods trucks. Their presence has led to tension with the local population and a permanent police deployment.