French riot police dismantle Calais immigrant camps


French riot police began evacuating three campsites housing hundreds of immigrants in the northern port town of Calais on Wednesday.


The evacuation came days after the anti-immigrant National Front party hammered the ruling Socialists in a European election.

The evictions, denounced by local rights organisations, had been announced by a local government prefect a week earlier - before Sunday’s election drubbing - on the grounds that the makeshift camps posed problems for public health and safety.

Calais has for years attracted floods of immigrants who flee poverty or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, many of them hoping to cross the narrow sea channel to Britain by ferry or the sub-sea train tunnel.

“This is sad, and it changes nothing,” said Jalal, an Iraqi in his 20s who watched as police moved in.

“I’ll move my tent somewhere else ... but I am staying put (in Calais). What else can I do? I will try again to make the crossing. I did not come here just to give up now.”

Many of the estimated 600-800 immigrants living in the three camps had moved out before the well-publicised evacuation ordered by Denis Robin, prefect for the Pas-de-Calais region.

“The people are on edge and are looking for the place where they will feel the safest,” Cécile Bossy, from the France-based Doctors of the World NGO, told the news agency Agence France-Presse.

Political climate marked by growing anti-immigrant sentiment

France’s Manuel Valls, who was recently appointed prime minister, took a tougher line on immigration than most of his Socialist party during his high-profile stint as interior minister.

Yet the previous administration also cleared out migrant shantytowns near Calais. Eric Besson, immigration minister to Nicolas Sarkozy, ordered bulldozers to raze the infamous camp nicknamed the Jungle in 2009. Almost three hundred migrants were arrested during the daybreak operation, over a third of them minors. The story received wide coverage in the French and international press and extensive criticism from human rights groups.

Immigration and borders also featured prominently in the campaign for last week’s European Parliament elections, which saw far-right anti-immigration candidates score historic victories, including in France and Britain.

In France, the National Front took one in four votes to come first ahead of the mainstream centre-right opposition party and, in third place, the ruling Socialist Party.

Pas-de-Calais lies in north-west France where the FN won 34 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, one of its best tallies and a tripling of its score from the 2009 EU election

The FN has long campaigned for a dramatic reduction in immigration and opposes the “Schengen” borderless zone at the heart of the 28-member European Union.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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