Posted on September 18, 2009

France to Shut Calais ‘Jungle’ to Stop Illegal Crossings to UK

Henry Samuel, Telegraph (London), Sept. 17, 2009

Eric Besson, the immigration minister, said that a “very strong” rise in crime in the northern French port had provoked him to order that the “jungle” be cleared out by police backed by army units by the end of next week.

He said the message to migrants and people traffickers was: “You can no longer cross to England from Calais.”

He added: “The paradoxical situation for France is that we are trying to bar entry into the UK, which doesn’t want these migrants, and we are lumbered with handling their departure.”

Natacha Bouchart, the mayor of Calais, has denounced a string of “serious offences” against residents in recent weeks in the area where a London journalism student was raped last summer.

“This will put an end to a lawless situation which had become unbearable for local people,” she said. “Dismantling the jungle is psychologically important: we must say ‘stop’.”

Up to 2,000 migrants, many of them from south Asia and the Middle East, live in makeshift tents and shelters in and around Calais. Every night dozens attempt to cross into Britain by jumping on trucks queuing for ferries or boarding trains going through the Channel tunnel.

The minister estimated that there were about 700 people in the jungle three months ago but that there were about 300 now following the closures of several squats. The squalid living conditions led to an epidemic of scabies last month.

About 170 people had made requests for asylum in France this year and a further 180 accepted voluntary return to their country of origin, he said.

The jungle has become a focal point for migrants since 2002, when Nicolas Sarkozy, the then interior minister, closed the notorious Red Cross centre at Sangatte.

Mr Besson promised the operation would be carried out humanely. An “individual solution” would be found for each person, including a voluntary return to the home country, an asylum request or expulsion.

There would be no forced returns of Afghans “if conditions do not allow this,” he said.

Aid groups working in the jungle said that the move was pointless and counter-productive. “This closure will in no way resolve the problem but simply shift it by perhaps a few kilometres,” said Vincent Lenoir of the Salaam charity. “Anyway, the migrants are spread around the whole country wherever there’s a ferry link to England. Migrants already live in deplorable conditions and this will simply make their life a little harder.”

Jean-Pierre Boutoille, a Catholic abbot from the C-sur coalition of aid groups, said: “It’s absurd and ridiculous to shut a shelter without planning for anything in its place,” said “Ever since they closed Sangatte, they regularly empty out and close the squats–it hasn’t changed a thing.”

Mr Boutoille said a UNHCR campaign launched in June to explain asylum and voluntary return procedures had led to a tripling of applications to return home.

“We are doing everything to create new problems just as things were starting to improve,” he said.

In April, French police arrested up to 200 migrants in a major swoop. But most were later freed.

On Thursday a large squat in Calais was closed and several migrants arrested in dunes near the jungle.

Mr Besson said the fight against underground networks would continue after the closure and other operations would follow “wherever there are camps along the coast”.

A spokesman for the UK Border Agency said the closure and its timing were “matters for the French government” but added: “The UK supports action to tackle illegal immigration and to break up trafficking routes.”