Calais 'Jungle' camp set for destruction after French court ruling
Published 25/02/2016 | 16:41
A French court has given the green light to raze tents sheltering hundreds of migrants in the Jungle camp in Calais.
A court official said the Lille Administrative Court ruled on Thursday that French authorities can evict migrants from their tents in the densely populated southern portion of the camp but cannot entirely demolish it.
Associations protesting the move took the issue to court seeking a postponement of a deadline reached last Tuesday for migrants to move out.
The court in Lille ruled that the makeshift shelters used by the migrants can be destroyed - but that common spaces like places of worship, schools and a library must stand.
Demolition crews have been poised to start what officials say will be a better solution for migrants trapped in Calais with borders all but sealed by increasing security.
Officials estimate the number of migrants who will be affected at 800-1,000. Humanitarian organisations say more than 3,000 migrants live there.
Moving the migrants out of the camp will be the most dramatic step by the French state to end Calais's years-long migrant problem. Critics contend that closing the camp may not solve the problem.
The same court in Lille ordered the state in November to clean up the camp by adding running water, toilets and garbage bins, and counting the number of minors without families - now 326 - and help those in distress.
Saving the migrants' temporary homes from bulldozers became a mass effort by volunteers, humanitarian groups and a dose of star power. Actor Jude Law paid a visit last weekend and 260 French figures signed a petition against destroying the camp.
In announcing plans to close the camp, authorities cited security and sanitation concerns and the increasingly tarnished image of Calais, a city of nearly 80,000 takes pride in drawing tourists to its Opal Coast. Its prime location - with a major ferry port, Eurotunnel rail system and truck traffic crossing the English Channel - has put it in the crosshairs of the migrant crisis.
Tensions rose when the camp's population spiked to 6,000 last autumn before dropping to 4,000 more recently.
The area targeted for destruction is dotted with rickety shops, cafes, places of worship and schools, built by aid groups and the migrants, most of whom travelled from conflict zones such as Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, or came to escape human rights abuses or poverty in African nations.
A sense of anxiety mounted in the camp ahead of the court ruling.
"Obviously, they are scared and concerned about what is going to happen," said Ed Sexton, of Help Refugees, one of the associations working in the camp. "The people have been here months, living in terrible conditions, but they don't want their shelters destroyed."
Humanitarian workers predicted that those who refuse to leave would shelter in small groups elsewhere around Calais and the coast.
"You're basically going to scatter a lot of people," said Maya Konforti, of the association Auberge des Migrants.