Calais demands action as migrant crisis hits economy
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A delegation of about 500 residents from the French town of Calais were in Paris on Monday to demand help from the government for another victim of the migrant crisis: the citizens and businesses of Calais.
The Greater Association for the Calais Region (Grand rassemblement du Calaisis) lobbied the Elysée presidential palace in Paris on Monday to declare an “exceptional state of economic catastrophe” in Calais.
According to the delegation, the image of the town has been destroyed by the ongoing migrant crisis in the “Jungle” camp near Calais, and the port town’s vital tourism industry is suffering as a result.
“We’re not for or against the migrants,” Antoine Ravisse, president of the Calais delegation, told AFP. But business owners in the town want to “reestablish Calais’s image in France, Europe and everywhere”, he said.
The association, which represents a number of business groups and organisations in Calais, is asking Paris for a 10-year tax moratorium to help the town recover from the drop in commerce at shops and restaurants, which some estimate to be as much as 40 percent.
Image in tatters
For decades Calais was the go-to spot for British tourists looking for a place to stock up on inexpensive French wine and cheese, or for a “gastronomic break” on their way to other points on the continent. The port town, just 90 minutes away from Dover and the principal ferry crossing point between France and England, is heavily dependent on this tourist traffic.
But today Calais is synonymous with the notorious migrant camp known as the “Jungle” and the shocking images of refugees and migrants attempting to board trucks headed for the Channel Tunnel. And the tourists have stopped coming.
According to Solange Leclerc, director of tourism in the Calais Côte d'Opale area, there has been a 25 percent fall in the overall number of tourists since last year and a 20 percent reduction in the number of British tourists. British citizens make up the largest contingent of tourists in Calais, followed by Belgians and the Dutch.
The delegation blames the British press and social media for the current view of Calais as just a large refugee camp for desperate migrants.
The Jungle is several kilometres outside of the town, and migrants trying to stow away on trucks usually do so in the nearby town of Coquelles. Migrants rarely enter the centre of Calais. However, for some British people on social media, Calais equals danger.
“My friend drives a truck through Calais every week, it’s very dangerous. Someone is going to get seriously hurt,” tweeted Dale Stangoe in January.
Even British Prime Minister David Cameron contributed to Calais’s negative image by describing migrants like those in the port city as a “swarm of people” in an August 2015 interview.
‘We need the British’
Calais had been suffering economically ever since the 2008 economic crisis, and the drop in tourist traffic has only exacerbated the situation. The town is peppered with “Liquidation sale” and “Closing down” signs alongside already closed businesses and restaurants.
Paris has already promised €120 million in economic aid, but Yann Capet, representative for the Pas-de-Calais region, thinks more drastic measures are needed.
“We want measures that will go into effect quickly,” he told FRANCE 24 on Monday. “This is a real emergency... We need the British.”