Demolition of Controversial Migrant Camp in France to Go Ahead; Protests Continue

By Fayçal Benhassain | October 20, 2016 | 2:52am EDT
French police officers patrol the migrant camp in Calais (AP Photo, File)

Paris ( – Demolition of a controversial camp for migrants on France’s Channel coast is imminent, but the plan to disperse inhabitants to reception centers around the country continues to draw a strong public response.

An administrative court has dismissed an appeal against the closure of the squalid camp at Calais known as The Jungle, brought by 11 organizations which challenged the plan on human rights grounds.

“The dismantlement does not disregard the principle of prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment,” the court ruled, setting the scene for authorities to start moving to various centers around France.

The 11 organizations, and aid groups, are concerned that closure will lead to a chaos and that children may in the process fall into the hands of people traffickers. When the camp was partially evacuated last February, 129 children went missing.

Under the pressure from French authorities, British Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced that the U.K. would take in children with relatives already in the country.

Around 20 minors unaccompanied at the camp have been allowed to join families in Britain, but an association called “France Terre d’Asile” (France Land of Asylum) said there were at least 1,300 unaccompanied minors still there. The British Red Cross says at least 178 of them have relatives in Britain.

Inhabitants of The Jungle, about 8,000-10,000 currently, gather there because they hope to make their way across the Channel to Britain. Migrants frequently try to smuggle their way onto trucks heading for the crossing.

Responding to the court decision, the U.N. refugee agency welcomed the move to demolish the camp but expressed concern about the fate of children.

“This is good news as the Jungle site has been problematic for a number of years, and UNHCR has long recommended it be closed,” spokesman Adrian Edwards said at a news briefing in Geneva.

“Living conditions are appalling, with the most basic shelter, inadequate hygiene facilities, very poor security and a lack of basic services,” he said.

Lawyers for the organization that brought the legal challenge could not be reached for comment, but government officials say the operation will begin as quickly as possible.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it would be “a matter of days,” adding that “all migrants will be hosted with dignity in the special reception and orientation centers set up in various regions.”

But Jacques Toubon, the head of the government’s human rights watchdog, expressed concerns about the plan, saying that it “will further weaken vulnerable people’s lives and drive them away from the protection they are entitled to by their fundamental rights.”

At the centers, migrants will be able to apply for asylum. Around 9,000 places have been made available, but campaigners fret that many others will end up living rough in public parks, or end up going back to Calais.

Anti-immigrant sentiment has increased in France, with protest marches held in several communities. In recent weeks three centers being prepared to receive migrants have burnt down, in what police suspect are arson attacks.

In the small city of Allex in east-central France, hundreds gathered to protest the arrival of 50 migrants at a local château converted by the government into a shelter.

“We won’t let our town become another Calais,” a 45-year-old father at the march told reporters covering the event. “The migrants won’t integrate themselves,” said a 74-year-old Allex resident.

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