French court approves destruction of Calais refugee camp

Critics say closing the camp may not solve the problem, saying that it would only exacerbate the crisis as the displaced people will be forced to to go back to sleeping in fields and smaller camps.

Jerome Delay/AP/
Migrants walk past the burnt remains of a restaurant in a makeshift migrants camp near Calais, France. A French court has given the green light for the state to relocate hundreds of migrants from their shelter in part of the camp locally referred to as 'the jungle'

A French court upheld a government plan to partially demolish hundreds of tents and wooden shelters housing migrants and refugees in the shanty town outside Calais known as the "Jungle."

In announcing plans to close the Calais camp, authorities cited security and sanitation concerns and the increasingly tarnished image of Calais, a city of nearly 80,000 that takes pride in drawing tourists to its Opal Coast. At a hearing earlier this week, a lawyer for the Interior Ministry argued that policing the camp represented a drain on resources during the state of emergency imposed after the Paris terror attacks in November, the Guardian reported.

French authorities said they will increase daily efforts to move displaced migrants into a container camp set up last month in the northern sector of the "Jungle" and encourage them to go to temporary welcome centers where they can reconsider their plans and eventually apply for asylum in France, according to The Associated Press.

But critics say closing the camp would only exacerbate the crisis as the displaced people will be forced to to go back to sleeping in fields and smaller camps.

Refugee groups and charities had urged the court in Lille to suspend the threatened eviction until suitable accommodation was found for the camp’s residents. Josie Naughton, co-founder of the charity Help Refugees argued much more needed to be done on the ground.

“We didn't ask for the camp to exist forever,” she told Newsweek. “We asked for a delay in destroying it until the residents are given an adequate other option.”

“Now that the refugees are going to be evicted, we need to know where the French authorities plan on putting them,” she continues. “I spent a lot of time in camp. These are people fleeing conflict. They want to remain in their home country, but they can’t.

Several celebrities have also criticized both the French and British governments. A total of 145 leading figures from film, sport, and television, including Colin Firth, Idris Elba, Gary Lineker, and Benedict Cumberbatch wrote a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month urging the governments not to close the camps and to save the unaccompanied children from the refugee camp.

“Such an enforced move would uproot again those who have already had to abandon their homes due to war and persecution. The eviction also threatens vital community facilities built and run by the residents and volunteers including the Women and Children’s Centre, the Youth Centre, three mosques, one Orthodox church, three classrooms, the camp’s only library, the Good Chance Theatre, the Legal Centre, the Vaccination Centre and three crucial distribution centres for aid and food. These spaces offer much-needed respite and comfort for all those living in the intensely difficult conditions within the camp”

The Calais "Jungle" has been a tension point after migrants parked in the area have tried to get into Britain illegally through the Eurotunnel or "Chunnel."

The British Red Cross said most migrants want to move as they believe that there are better prospects of finding work in the UK, or because they speak English and want to use the language. Others have relatives in Britain, or are drawn by a belief that there is better housing and education available, according to the BBC.

The number of asylum seekers storming the tunnel over the last several months is unprecedented, according to French authorities. But the issues is not new.

Asylum seekers first arrived en masse in the region in 1999, when the controversial Sangatte refugee camp was opened in Calais, attracting thousands of people fleeing civil war and human rights violations, mostly from Somalia, Eritrea, and other North African countries. The closure of the camp in 2001 led to riots, and since then asylum seekers have continued to arrive in Calais and build makeshift camps near the port. French authorities estimate there are about 3,000 people currently living in "the Jungle," although other estimates put the number closer to 4,000, the BBC reported.

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