France to close squatter camp for British-bound migrants

24th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Police raided a group of makeshift shelters in a sandy wooded area known as 'the jungle,' Tuesday, rounding up some 190 migrants, only to release them the following day.

Calais -- France will shut down a squatter camp in the Channel port of Calais that has drawn hundreds of migrants trying to reach Britain, Immigration Minister Eric Besson said Thursday.

Besson travelled to Calais after police raided a group of makeshift shelters in a sandy wooded area known as "the jungle," rounding up some 190 migrants on Tuesday, only to release them the following day.

"We will not let the situation deteriorate and you will not have to shut down your businesses," Besson told local business leaders who complained that the migrants were causing trouble in Calais.

"Soon, the jungle will no longer exist," he promised.

The minister however quickly added that there was no set timetable for authorities to dismantle the shacks and deal with the foreigners.

"I can't tell you the modalities and timetable for closing down the jungle," he said.

Hundreds of Afghans, Kurds, Eritreans and other would-be asylum-seekers have been camping in the Calais woodlands from where they try to sneak on board trucks that cross the Channel by ferry or train.

Local politicians and business leaders said the tent camp has mushroomed and that tensions between the migrants and residents are on the boil.

Factory manager Dominique Vanneste told Besson that his employees were subjected to "daily attacks" from migrants who had "become much more aggressive."

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart said the city, with 14 percent unemployment and 6,000 welfare recipients, "can no longer cope with the problem of the migrants."

The Calais "jungle" appeared after President Nicolas Sarkozy, then interior minister, shut down a Red Cross shelter in Sangatte in November 2002, under pressure from Britain.

The centre had been a source of tension between London and Paris since its opening in 1999, with London saying it served as a springboard for illegal migration into Britain.

Besson, who was due to hold a news conference later, has pressed London to do more to stem the tide of migration across the Channel and vowed to revisit the issue in talks with his British counterpart Phil Woolas.

The minister, a former Socialist who joined Sarkozy during his campaign for the presidency, has however ruled out opening "a new Sangatte" in Calais.

"Britain probably... needs to step up its controls, shoulder a bigger share of the financial burden, and especially ask itself why traffickers and migrants see Britain's illegal job market as a golden opportunity," he said Wednesday.

French immigration officials said Tuesday's police raid marked the first step toward shutting down the jungle and that other security operations are planned.

Rights groups dismissed the police sweep as a publicity stunt, but officials said the action was to clamp down on people smugglers.

Relief organisations estimate that between 600 and 800 migrants -- including Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese, Iranians, Nigerians and Kurds -- are sleeping rough in the Calais region.

"The migrants will not be abandoned," said an immigration official, adding that measures will be taken in concert with the charity organisations.

Besson last visited Calais on January 27 and promised that he would come up with a permanent solution to the problems posed by the migrants by May 1.

Anne-Marie Ladoues/AFP/Expatica

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