Deadline looms for Calais 'Jungle' migrants eviction

Calais (France) (AFP) –


Emotions were running high on Tuesday as a deadline loomed for the destruction of half the "Jungle" migrant camp in the northern French port city of Calais.

Residents in the southern half of the grim shanty town have been given until 1900 GMT to vacate the camp, but many are refusing or unable to move.

The issue has played into the fraught discussions about Britain's possible exit from the European Union, with France under pressure to stop refugees trying to board lorries and ferries to cross the Channel.

Some British opponents of "Brexit" say they would lose the ability to call on France to stop the flow of refugees if Britain leaves the EU.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Monday that the eviction would be done "progressively, by persuasion and with respect for people's dignity".

But local authorities said the demolition of the makeshift houses in the southern section of the camp was expected to begin on Wednesday.

Many residents appear to be standing firm.

"I don't have anywhere else to go," said John, a 28-year-old Sudanese migrant.

"We don't want to leave Calais because we don't want to get further away from England, which is still our goal."

Charities working in the Jungle have challenged the eviction order, and a magistrate arrived early on Tuesday to assess the situation.

He was due to give a ruling on whether to suspend the eviction later on Tuesday.

The migrants in Calais represent a tiny fraction of the migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. They are often drawn to Britain by family or community ties, or because of a shared language.

There is fierce debate over the numbers of people living in the camp.

Local authorities say a total of 3,700 people are living in Jungle, and between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction.

But the charities say they have carried out a recent census that found at least 3,450 people were living in the southern part of the camp, including 300 unaccompanied children.

- 'Terrible conditions' -

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

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

The French government has presented its action as an effort to improve living conditions for the migrants.

"We must provide a humanitarian response to the situation in Calais," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Tuesday.

"We are in the process of evacuating methodically... because we can't accept the terrible conditions in which the migrants are living... and we can't continue to have a shanty town on the edge of Calais," he added.

The evicted migrants have been offered heated accommodation in refitted containers set up next door to the Jungle, but many are reluctant to move there because they lack any communal spaces and movement is restricted.

They have also been offered places in around 100 accommodation centres spread around France.

The demolition "risks displacing migrants to other camps in the region, which is only moving the problem somewhere else," said Vincent De Coninck, a volunteer with Caritas.

Conditions in other camps along the northern French coast are even more dire than those in the Jungle.