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Fears of further clashes at Calais 'Jungle' migrant camp as evacuation looms

AFP | The "Jungle" migrant camp in the northern French port city of Calais will be evacuated starting Monday, October 23, 2016

French authorities will begin a week-long operation to dismantle the so-called “Jungle” migrant camp in the northern port city of Calais on Monday, amid fears of further clashes between police and the sites inhabitants.


The operation to dismantle the infamous camp will be a long one.

Police have estimated the “Jungle’s” population at 6,400 migrants, while aid groups have put the number at 8,100.

French authorities were expected on Sunday to officially inform migrants at the “Jungle” of the camp’s imminent evacuation. The interior ministry has warned that the dismantlement could set off further clashes at the camp, after violence erupted overnight on Wednesday as the camp’s uncertain future became clear.

Furthermore, volunteers on the ground Saturday voiced fears that, less than 48 hours before the evacuations were due to begin, migrants had not been given enough information about the operation.

“There are many migrants who aren’t aware that the camp is going to be razed in the coming days,” Gaël, who works with volunteer group Utopia 56 (who declined to give his last name), told FRANCE 24. “Information has been slow getting to us about how the camp is going to be dismantled.”

Samuel Hanyron, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans Frontières or MSF), echoed Gäel’s comments.

“It’s true that [the government] has been slow getting the information out,” Hanyron told FRANCE 24 on Saturday. “But today, there is an increasing number of migrants who are aware that their departure is imminent. This morning, I saw people carrying suitcases.”

This picture taken on August 16, 2016, shows an aerial view of the sprawling "Jungle" migrant camp in the northern French port city of Calais.
This picture taken on August 16, 2016, shows an aerial view of the sprawling "Jungle" migrant camp in the northern French port city of Calais.

A week-long operation

Despite the apparent lack of coordination and information, the evacuations are scheduled to begin on Monday morning.

On Monday, the camp’s inhabitants will be led to a 3,000 square-metre hangar nearby, where they will be registered and assigned to one of 280 reception centres set up across the country. Once registered, they will be taken to different buses, depending on their destination.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has guaranteed that authorities will not look at migrants’ legal status during the process.

Overall, 2,400 people, or approximately one third of the camp’s population, will be evacuated on Monday, according to French daily Le Monde.

The government has said it hopes the entire operation will be completed in “a week”.

It has also said that the evacuation will be on a voluntary basis, and that migrants will not be forced to leave. However, those who refuse to leave will be taken as a “last resort” to a holding facility, where they run the risk of deportation.

Clearing the camp

During the evacuation process, public access to the “Jungle” will be restricted to aid workers and journalists, with crews expected to start dismantling the tents and shelters as soon as Tuesday.

“We won’t be there to help the authorities, but to help the inhabitants,” Valérie, a volunteer spokeswoman for Utopia 56 (who also declined to give her last name), told FRANCE 24.

“We’ll be there to answer questions, help them with their luggage. We’ll also be handing out business cards in English, Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya, Farsi and Pashto, which will have links to our information on the refugee centres. That way, they’ll know they can get in touch with us if they run into any problems,” she added.

Utopia 56 also said it will set up an emergency hotline for minors during the first three months following the camp’s closure. According to French aid group Terre d’Asile, around 1,300 unaccompanied minors will remain in Calais after the camp is cleared and they will be housed in a short-term reception centre close by.

Trafficking fears for children of Calais camp

‘Last chance to reach England’

Around 1,250 police and military police have been mobilised to help with the operation, as well as prevent any new encampments from springing up.

The authorities also hope they can count on the cooperation of aid groups already present at the “Jungle”, despite their vocal opposition to the camp’s evacuation.

“We’re not here to give a helping hand to the police,” Gäel of Utopia 56 told FRANCE 24.

According to Gäel, the situation has been tense at the camp for the past few days.

“We’ve been smelling teargas in the air the last several nights. There have been clashes with riot police. Many migrants are beginning to realise that it’s their last chance to try to reach England,” he said.

For the first time since it was established in April 2015, Molotov cocktails were thrown at security forces overnight on October 19, AFP reported, citing senior officials.

“[The evacuation] is a risky operation that can degenerate, prompting the necessity for a police intervention,” the interior ministry warned on Friday.

But for MSF’s Hanyron, the real concern is what happens after the camp has been cleared.

“I hope that a legal framework is put in place to allow these thousands of migrants to enter the United Kingdom,” he said. “If not, the dismantlement of the camp will only be temporary and a new ‘jungle’ could spring up in a short amount of time.”

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