Migrants face court in France for boarding cross-Channel ferry

A migrant sits on top of a pile of sand near the "Jungle" camp in Calais. PHOTO: REUTERS

Calais, France (AFP) - Two activists and six migrants were due in a French court on Monday (Feb 22) after breaking through a barrier and boarding a ferry in Calais, while authorities prepared to demolish half of the "Jungle" camp.

Around 2,000 people took part in the protest on January 23, including supporters from several European countries, calling for Britain to allow asylum seekers to enter the country.

Towards the end of the protest, some 150 people broke through a barrier around the port and about a third made it on board the "Spirit of Britain" ferry.

Police removed them after three hours, arresting 24 migrants and 11 members of the No Borders activist group.

Two of the activists and six of the migrants will receive a verdict from a court in Boulogne-sur-Mer on Monday.

The case comes a day before a deadline set by local authorities for people in the southern half of the "Jungle" migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais to leave.

According to the latest government estimates, 3,700 people live in the filthy camp lying on a former toxic waste dump, all hoping to sneak aboard lorries heading for Britain.

Local government head Fabienne Buccio said Sunday that "everything will be done" to avoid the use of force in clearing the southern half of the camp, which will affect between 1,000 and 2,000 residents.

"The dismantling should start on Wednesday and security forces will not be used if everyone plays their part," Buccio said.

In a statement on Friday, the Calais town hall claimed it was acting in response to "abuses" committed by migrants that had led to "an aggravated level of tension" in recent weeks.

It said camp residents were throwing stones and other projectiles at lorries and security forces on a daily basis, but it also condemned members of far-right groups who loiter outside the Jungle to beat up migrants.

Several charities are challenging the order to clear the southern half of the camp in court, and a judge is due to visit the Jungle on Tuesday (Feb 23) before giving a verdict later in the day.

The French authorities have been gradually trying to shut down the Jungle, encouraging residents to head for proper centres elsewhere in France.

However, many of the residents have family or community ties to Britain and are reluctant to give up their dream of crossing the Channel.

A campaign spearheaded by celebrities such as actors Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch has called on the British government to let children from the camp be reunited with families in Britain and take responsibility for the "humanitarian crisis" in the Jungle.

Law was among a group of celebrities who gave a one-off literary performance on Sunday in the makeshift theatre in the Jungle to draw attention to the cause.

The protest in January once again raised questions about security at the port, which has been tightened in recent months with money from the British government.

The storming of the ferry came around the same time as the authorities had cleared a ring around the edge of the Jungle, forcing hundreds of migrants to move their makeshift shacks in freezing conditions.

Those being pushed out of the camp can go to one of 98 accommodation centres elsewhere in France, or into refitted shipping containers put up next door to the camp.

The containers have not proved popular with migrants, who say they lack communal spaces and restrict their movements, while local charities say they fail to meet international standards.

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