Calais mi­grants di­vided on fu­ture as camp shuts

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


As France pre­pares to close down the squalid ‘Jun­gle’ mi­grant camp in the north­ern port of Calais, Am­jad from Pak­istan can’t wait to get away. “That’s six months they have been telling us that the ‘Jun­gle’ is done with... but it never ends,” he said. “Ev­ery­one here knows that they will soon have to leave and are won­der­ing what they are go­ing to do,” he said. “Me, I’ll take the train to Paris.”

Work to tear down the sprawl­ing slum in the Chan­nel port could start be­fore the end of the month, ac­cord­ing to French of­fi­cials. The plan is to scat­ter the mi­grants from the ‘Jun­gle’ to around a hun­dred re­cep­tion cen­ters across France, and at least some camp res­i­dents seem will­ing to make a go of it. “It’s good that the dis­man­tling is com­ing,” said Noah, a young Su­danese mi­grant. “When the ‘Jun­gle’ is de­stroyed we will be spread around to bet­ter places.”

Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande an­nounced dur­ing a visit to Calais last week that the camp would be dis­man­tled by the end of the year. The makeshift set­tle­ment has be­come the fo­cal point in France of Europe’s mi­grant cri­sis, fought over by politi­cians and a con­stant source of ten­sion with Bri­tain.

Fall­ing num­bers

But aid work­ers help­ing the mi­grants in the camp say that the num­ber of res­i­dents has al­ready gone down in the last few weeks. The main ally of the camp was al­most empty this week. Only a cou­ple of gro­cers and an Afghan res­tau­rant were open for business, the smell of their cook­ing adding spice to the air on a fresh autumn morn­ing. As re­cently as mid-Septem­ber, two aid groups reck­oned that an in­flux this sum­mer had taken the num­ber of mi­grants at the camp to just over 10,000 —- but not any­more, judg­ing by the num­bers turn­ing up for meals.

“We have dropped back down be­low the level of 3,000 meals a day, when just three weeks ago we were at 4,500,” said Stephane Du­val, the head of a cen­tre at the camp that of­fers food and some ac­com­mo­da­tion. It is a sim­i­lar story from L’Au­berge des Mi­grants, one of the main as­so­ci­a­tions work­ing on the site. “We’re at 4,000 meals a day as op­posed to 5,000 two weeks ago,” said its pres­i­dent Chris­tian Salome. “Our view is the peo­ple who don’t want to stay in France have al­ready left, mainly to Gran­deSyn­the,” a camp fur­ther east along the north­ern coast.

At the same time, said Du­val, there has been a surge of mi­grants tak­ing shel­ter in a more per­ma­nent part of the camp, amid con­cerns about the com­ing chaos as the dis­man­tling gets un­der way. As a re­sult all 1,500 places at his cen­tre were now oc­cu­pied.

‘Eng­land or noth­ing’

But not ev­ery­one is will­ing to aban­don the north coast of France across the Chan­nel from Bri­tain. Some mi­grants still have their sights set on Eng­land, de­spite the dan­gers of try­ing to stow away in lor­ries head­ing across the Chan­nel. Only last month a 14-year-old Afghan boy died try­ing to board a truck.

“It’s Eng­land or noth­ing,” Al­don, a 20-year-old Su­danese mi­grant, in­sisted, say­ing he was de­ter­mined to stay in the Calais area even af­ter the ‘Jun­gle’ was gone. “I’ll stay here as long as I can and when they dis­man­tle it, I’ll move away but not too far,” he said. For Salome at L’Au­berge des Mi­grants, that is a prob­lem. “We don’t know where they are go­ing to go,” he said. His con­cern is that they could end up sleep­ing in “pub­lic gar­dens, un­der bridges or in the fields”. So as well as call­ing for bags and suit­cases to help those mi­grants mov­ing on, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has ap­pealed for tents and sleep­ing bags. The cen­tre has al­ready re­ceived more than 1,500 items of lug­gage. While the clo­sure of the south­ern part of the ‘Jun­gle’ in March pro­voked fierce clashes be­tween riot po­lice and the mi­grants, news of this fi­nal shut­down has not, for the mo­ment at least, gen­er­ated the same level of re­sis­tance.

Salome said: “We don’t want this shanty town to go on. Now there’s a chance for the mi­grants who stay in France to be bet­ter off.” But special ar­range­ments will have to be made for the chil­dren at the site. French In­te­rior Min­is­ter Bernard Cazeneuve said this week there were up to 950 chil­dren liv­ing in the ‘Jun­gle’, many unac­com­pa­nied. Cam­paign­ers also say that many of the chil­dren have fam­ily in Bri­tain and should be al­lowed to travel there. — AFP

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