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French authorities to close Calais migrant camp


Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-04-23

France's immigration minister has announced the closure of a squalid migrant camp in Calais, during a visit to the Channel port. Rights groups are demanding measures to support undocumented workers.

French authorities are set to close a large migrant squatter camp in the Channel port-town of Calais, France, following a large police operation on alleged people-trafficking networks on Tuesday.


France's immigration minister, Eric Besson, announced on Thursday plans to close the squalid, makeshift camp known as “the jungle” during a visit to Calais.


“The jungle won’t exist anymore,” said Besson during a meeting with local entrepreneurs at the Tioxine chemical plant, adding that it was contrary to local economic development.


Hundreds of Afghans, Kurds, Eritreans and other would-be asylum-seekers have been camping in the Calais woodlands from where they sneak on board trucks that cross the Channel by ferry or train.


“About 300 to 400, people, including children and pregnant women, are squatting in the woods without access to water and under pressure from the police,” said Sylvie Copyans, vice-secretary of rights group Salam in an interview with FRANCE 24.


Police swoop on migrants


On Tuesday, police raided "the jungle", rounding up some 200 migrants, mostly from Afghanistan, before releasing all but a handful of them the following day.


Besson, a former Socialist who joined French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s cabinet, had told French media that the police operation aimed at “finding smugglers and I believe about ten of them are in custody,” he said. The ten Afghan migrants he referred to were not charged in the end and were released on Wednesday.


But according to Copyans, the police operation was an attempt to start cleaning up the camp. “You don’t bring two bulldozers and skips into the jungle to arrest smugglers,” said Copyans. “The [police] wanted to clean up the jungle before the minister’s visit.”


Copyans added that even if the migrants were temporarily deterred from staying in Calais, they would return. “It’s all a masquerade to make us believe [they’ll go], but England is only 30 km away, that’s where the migrants want to go,” she said. “They’ll be back in Calais.”


The immigration ministry has confirmed that the police swoop on Calais – which involved some 500 police officers – was part of efforts to close “the jungle”.


No new Sangatte


“Migrants will not be abandoned” and “humanitarian measures” will be taken to assist the hundreds of undocumented workers in Calais, the immigration ministry said Wednesday.


Such promises have yet to convince rights activists who work with undocumented workers, such as Copyans, who welcomed the announcement with skepticism. “We’re waiting for [Besson] to address our claims: the creation of illegal migrant centres, a reform of the asylum legislation and the assistance of underage migrants.”


"There will not be a new Sangatte. There will not be any kind of mini-Sangatte," Besson said on Wednesday, referring to a Red Cross centre that welcomed illegal migrants in northern France until it was destroyed in November 2002.


Sangatte had been a source of tension between London and Paris since its opening in 1999, with London saying it served as a springboard for illegal migration into Britain.

Date created : 2009-04-23