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French truckers, farmers, protest at Calais Jungle disruption

Calais residents call for "support for farmers" as part of the 5 September protests
Calais residents call for "support for farmers" as part of the 5 September protests Philippe Huguen/AFP

Farmers, truckers and shopkeepers staged a go-slow protest on roads leading to Calais on Monday to protest at disruption caused by the Jungle migrants' camp. Apart from wanting the camp closed soon, they called for the the French Channel port to be declared an economic disaster zone.

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Lorries and tractors were greeted by horns tooted in supported by traffic going in the opposite direction as they drove at a snail's pace down the A16 motorway leading to France's busiest passenger port and the entrance to the Channel tunnel.

About 400 local traders marched along the town's bypass to meet them.

The town's right-wing mayor, Natacha Bouchart, and Socialist MP Yann Capet joined them to "share Calais people's suffering".

"We were already asking a couple of months ago for immediate action and exceptional measures in favour of Calais. Measures should be also economic – assistance to trade industry and shopkeepers," one of the organisers, Antoine Ravisse, told RFI.

"And also we need action for the image of Calais because the image is terrible. Every time you open a newspaper or TV what you see about Calais is very negative. And Calais is something else and the population of Calais is very quiet and peaceful and we are in despair, we are suffering. We got no response from the government."

Cazeneuve promises to close Jungle

On a visit to Calais on Friday Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve repeated his promise to close the Jungle "as quickly as possible", although adding that it would have to be done with care, and announced new financial aid to local businesses.

"The situation was already extremely fragile in Calais and now it’s even worse," Ravisse commented. "You see shops closing down, the number of tourists is going down tremendously . Also the traffic in the port has gone down by 20 percent and the only reason is that the road transporters and the families are scared now to drive to Calais. They don’t know if they will be able to cross without being attacked. This is unacceptable."

Trees used to block traffic

In an attempt to board lorries heading for Britain, where most of the Jungle's residents hope to go, migrants sometimes block the road, often using tree branches to do so.

Some drivers say they have been attacked by migrants wielding metal bars.

"We would like to say to the French government and to [President] François Hollande, who has never paid us a visit,  to  tell him again 'sort out the situation now, the daily attacks on the motorway have to stop',” Ravisse said. "In France in 2016 it’s not acceptable to be attacked on the public motorway."

He claims that migrants are manipulated by campaign groups like the transnational No Border Network.

"We are not an anti-migrant coalition or a political coalition but these migrants live in terrible conditions," he pointed out. "They are in the hands of mafia, in the hands of extremists, the No Borders for instance. And they get excited and they are pushed, nearly forced, to attack the motorway because they get promises that when they stop a lorry they will be able to cross the Channel to get to England, which of course is not true. But that’s the result of a situation which is not handled properly by the French government."

Britain, France row over asylum claim handling

Estimates of the number of migrants currently living in the camp range from 6,900 to 9,000.

Last week France and Britain agreed to work together to improve security at the port of Calais and conditions in the Jungle.

But the UK has dismissed the suggestion by regional council leader Xavier Bertrand that migrants should be allowed to lodge British asylum claims while still in France.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who hopes to stand for reelection next year, called for a "closed centre" on British soil to handle asylum claims, in an interview with regional newspaper la Voix du Nord on Monday.

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