France razes 'Jungle' camp as Greece buckles under migrant crisis

1st March 2016, Comments 0 comments

French authorities razed parts of the "Jungle" migrant camp for a second day Tuesday while thousands of refugees were blocked in Greece as Europe strained to contain the flood of desperate people at its borders.

An overnight downpour left stranded refugees shivering in the mud on the Greek border with Macedonia as the UN said over 131,000 migrants had entered Europe via the Mediterranean in 2016 so far.

This is more than in the first half of 2015, when Europe's biggest wave of refugees since World War II plunged the continent into a crisis many fear threatens the very core of the European project.

In the northern French port city of Calais tensions were high as workers continued dismantling the southern half of the "Jungle" camp, which has become a magnet for refugees hoping to reach Britain.

Clashes erupted on Monday between riot police and protesting migrants who do not want to be moved to better accommodation, as they claim it will take them farther from their goal of reaching Britain.

"The work we are doing is humanitarian work and we will take as long as it needs," said local government official Vincent Berton.

French workers broke down the makeshift shelters by hand, as bulldozers stood by, after a court appeal by charities to stop the destruction was rejected last week.

While the "Jungle" has become a cause celebre for activists, the crisis there pales in comparison to the situation boiling over in Greece where more than 7,000 people are stranded.

European Union president Donald Tusk set off Tuesday on a tour of Vienna, the Balkan states and Turkey in a bid to heal deep divisions over the migrant crisis.

- Muddy ordeal on Greek border -

Hundreds of refugees on Monday tried to break through a border fence into Macedonia, but their efforts to move deeper into Europe remained blocked as nations set tight limits on migrant entries.

An overnight downpour left their tents drenched and children coughing miserably.

Zineb Hosseini, a Syrian mother of five, said her family was "freezing".

"And now the wait begins anew," she added.

With Austria and Balkan states capping the numbers of migrants entering their territory, there has been a swift build-up along the Greece-Macedonia border, with Athens warning that the number of people "trapped" could reach up to 70,000 in March.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose own country is a favoured destination of many of the refugees and registered 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, has criticised the migrant cap.

The UN rights chief criticised a "rising roar of xenophobia" towards migrants.

"To keep building higher walls against the flight of these desperate people is an act of cruelty and a delusion," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Monday.

- Nowhere but Britain -

Meanwhile in France local authorities say some 3,700 people are living in the camp which has been dubbed "The Jungle" by residents fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Authorities say between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction.

But charities say a recent census they conducted counted at least 3,450 people in the southern part alone, including 300 unaccompanied children.

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

They have also been offered places in some 100 reception centres dotted around France.

But the migrants do not want to give up their hopes of Britain, which they try to reach daily by sneaking aboard lorries and ferries crossing the Channel.

The demolition of the Jungle comes ahead of talks on Thursday between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

The Jungle has played into fraught discussions about Britain's possible exit from the European Union (EU).

Some opponents of "Brexit" say that if Britain were to leave the EU, the British government would lose the ability to call on France to stop the refugees from trying to make their way across the Channel.

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© 2016 AFP

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