Weeks after Calais’ notorious “Jungle” migrant camp was dismantled, hundreds of migrants have returned to the northern port town hoping to make it to the UK, aid groups say.
Three months ago, authorities ordered the migrant camp on the town’s outskirts to be torn down, with up to 8,000 migrants from countries including Eritrea, Sudan, Syria and Iraq dispersed around France.
A limited number of unaccompanied minors were accepted by the UK. However, local aid groups say that the migrants, in particular minors, have been gradually returning.
A police source cited by Le Figaro newspaper now estimates that up to 400 migrants are in Calais, and that 15 more are arriving each day.
The newcomers, however, cannot return to the “Jungle”, which has been closed off, so are spread out around town, with some sleeping rough or at the train station, Le Figaro reported. Police are having to keep guard outside the former camp area to ensure migrants don’t try to reclaim it.
With the winter cold biting, aid groups are calling for some kind of emergency shelter to be set up in the area.
However, the interior and housing ministers earlier this week confirmed that “all installations will be shut in the Calais area to avoid becoming a focal point” for migrants to return.
“We weren’t asking to rebuild a vast camp, just a minimal humanitarian set-up,” said Florent Guéguen from the Fnars migrant help group. He said that there were “around 500 people in situ and the only public powers who intervene are the police”.
A proposal for a shelter for 20 people – which would be used as a short-term solution before moving migrants on elsewhere – won the backing of aid groups and local prefect Jean Aribaud, but it, too, was ignored.
“It was a solid and realistic proposal which was not followed up by the government,” Mr Aribaud told Le Figaro.
Frédéric Amiel of Emmaüs France, a charity for the poor and homeless, said: “This is a refusal in principle that is in denial about the reality of what’s happening on the ground.”
Pascale Brice, head of the Ofpra, the national office for the protection of refugees and the stateless, said: “What’s important is that people arriving in Calais continue to be taken care of in one way or another, and that they can make asylum requests in France, as Britain continues to fail to assume its responsibilities.”