French police evict migrants from Calais

French police evict migrants from Calais

Authorities close down the camp, known as the jungle

Hundreds of officers in dark blue uniforms scuffled with migrants and campaigners from a group called No Borders as the authorities closed down the camp, known as ‘the jungle’ by migrants and Calais residents alike for its location among the thorn bushes and sand dunes of Calais.

The makeshift camp, with its huts and a mosque made of packing crates, blankets and tarpaulins, grew after the closure of a Red Cross shelter for migrants in nearby Sangatte in late 2002. The continued presence of migrants on the northern French coast has been an irritant to Britain, which is determined to halt their unauthorised passage through the port.

The operation, in which hundreds of riot police officers were deployed, had been loudly signalled by the authorities, and many migrants slipped away before the raid. Of those who remained, some were led away in tears.

With migrants outnumbered by 500 riot police, the half-hour operation began at 7.40 am under the gaze of 200 waiting journalists, who watched police drag or escort away the mainly Afghan migrants who had gathered in silence under a banner written in Pashto and English declaring: “The jungle is our house, please don’t destroy it — if you do so then where is the place to go?”

The immigration minister, Eric Besson, defended the operation. “This is not a humanitarian camp. It’s a base for people traffickers,” he said. No Borders campaigners on the scene shouted “No border, no nation, stop deportations.”
Khaled Hadarhy, a 21-year-old Afghan, was rounded up along with two friends of 16 and 17. “We are all young but we look old because the jungle has made us old,” said  Hadarhy, a former policeman who has been in Calais for four months.
Pierre Bousquet, the prefect of the Pas de Calais region, said the operation had gone well. “We arrested 146 adults and 142 minors,” he said.

Crackdown on smugglers

The move to eliminate the tents and ramshackle housing around the port is designed to halt migrants without papers from getting into Britain, and to crackdown on the smuggling networks that assist them.
“Smugglers will not lay down the law,” immigration minister Besson, said. He first announced the plan to dismantle the camp in April, responding to complaints from local businesses.

The closure took place as European countries increasingly use force to crackdown on unwanted migrants. On July 12, Greece eliminated a makeshift camp in Patras; in May, Italy struck a controversial accord with Libya allowing it to turn back migrants’ boats in the Mediterranean. The European Union estimates that 5,00,000 people cross its borders without papers each year.

The number of migrants in the camp swelled to around 1,400 in August, according to Vincent Lenoir at Salam, an aid group whose volunteers have operated a soup kitchen for the migrants for seven years. But the number dropped to under 300, Bousquet said, in part because officials have swept some of the areas where they gather.
On Monday, migrants in Calais said that they were aware of the imminent police crackdown but that they were unsure what they should do. Many said that they had fled strife in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Pakistan and Iran, and that they had nowhere else to turn.
Mohammed Bashir, 24, a teacher from Afghanistan, said he had been at the camp for a month. “Let the police come,” he said. “Where are we going to run? There is nowhere to go.”

Moustafa Tcharminian, a 38-year-old from Tehran, moved from the camp to under a bridge recently. He said that closing the camp would have an impact on the migrants now in Calais because they would be put in detention or deported. But he insisted that it would have little impact on the smugglers. “The smugglers are in love with money,” he said. “They will keep sending people and lying to them, telling them to go.”

Interviews with residents of Calais, which has seen migrants flock to the region since Poles came to work in mines in the 1920s, indicated that few believed that a police action would put an end to clandestine arrivals in the port, from which England is visible across the water.