Calais 'Jungle' eviction delayed as Belgium tightens border
A French court postponed a ruling on the demolition of half the "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais, while Belgium reinstated border controls fearing an influx of migrants from the camp.
Emotions were running high in the camp on the outskirts of the northern French port city of Calais, with many residents refusing to leave despite a 1900 GMT deadline to vacate its southern half.
Charities working in the Jungle had been nervously awaiting a ruling from a court in Lille, where they had challenged the eviction order.
But the court said a decision was not possible before Wednesday or Thursday, as it began examining testimony from 250 migrants and 10 NGOs.
Meanwhile, Belgium said it had temporarily reintroduced border controls with France to halt a feared influx of migrants soon to be evicted from the nearby camp.
"We have informed the European Commission that we will temporarily depart from Schengen rules," Interior Minister Jan Jambon told reporters in Brussels, in the latest blow to Europe's 26-country borderless zone.
"We will carry out border controls at different strategic locations, at spots used by smugglers which the police have detected," Jambon said.
The Jungle has also played into fraught discussions about Britain's possible exit from the European Union.
Some British opponents of "Brexit" say they would lose the ability to call on France to stop the flow of refugees sneaking aboard lorries and ferries in Calais if Britain leaves the EU.
- 'Nowhere to go' -
The migrants in Calais make up 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.
Many residents of the Jungle appeared to be standing firm.
"I don't have anywhere else to go," said John, a 28-year-old Sudanese national.
"We don't want to leave Calais because we don't want to get further away from England, which is still our goal."
There is a heated debate over the numbers of people living in the camp.
Local authorities say there are 3,700 residents, and between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction.
But charities say they have carried out a recent census that found at least 3,450 people living in the southern part of the camp, including 300 unaccompanied children.
In a statement last week, the Calais town hall claimed it was responding to increased tensions caused by migrants throwing stones and other projectiles at lorries and security forces.
But it also condemned members of far-right groups who loiter outside the Jungle to harass and even attack migrants.
- 'Terrible conditions' -
The French government has presented the eviction 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 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 shantytown 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 dotted 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 are worse in other camps along the northern French coast, where fewer charities are operating and migrants are more exposed to the winter weather.
© 2016 AFP