Tuesday 20 February 2018

Violent clashes as police tear down 'Jungle'

'British anarchists hiding among Calais refugees to stir up trouble'

French police step in break up clashes in the 'Jungle' camp Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire
French police step in break up clashes in the 'Jungle' camp Photo: John Stillwell/PA Wire

David Chazan

French riot police began pushing thousands of migrants out of the notorious Calais migrant camp yesterday before they tear down its sprawling network of makeshift homes and shops later this week.

Migrants carrying suitcases and bundles of possessions began queueing up in the early morning darkness at the official meeting points for transportation to reception centres across France.

The major three-day operation will clear the sprawling shanty town near the Calais port - a symbol of Europe's failure to resolve its migrant crisis - of its estimated 6,000-10,000 occupants.

Riot police came under attack overnight from migrants protesting the camp's closure, who hurled rocks and lit fires.

French police have also warned that a group of British anarchists are attempting to disrupt the operation.

"Considering activists from hard-left group No Borders have arrived in the Calais area and have set up home in squats, there is a high risk the activists have penetrated the camp with a view to influencing the migrants as they did in March," a police spokesman for the Calais region said.

Police have set up 12,000 homes for migrants around the country, though they estimate the camp's current population to be around 8,000 people. Aid workers said it could be far higher.

Police vans and fire engines had gathered close to the rat-infested slum as migrants and refugees queued in the dark to register for accommodation centres elsewhere in France after being told they must leave the camp or risk arrest and deportation.

People in the queues said they had no idea where they were going but many seemed resigned to leaving the sprawling camp, where demolition work is expected to begin today.

Shortly before midday yesterday, at least 50 armed riot police marched in to control the crowd as people started to push and shove at the front.

Crowds of migrants who were ready to leave the camp gathered their belongings and waited for buses to pick them up and take them to other asylum centres dotted around France.

However, a recent study by the Refugee Rights Data Project indicated that up to 70pc of migrants wanted to stay put in the camp. It was feared that would lead to violent clashes between migrants and police if attempts to demolish tents and move people out of the camp were resisted.

Marta Welander, the project's founder, said: "No human should live in the squalid conditions experienced in the Calais camp.

"But any policy which seeks a quick-fix to these problems, without addressing the complex underlying dynamics beneath, is bound to fail."

As officials and charity workers spread out across the Jungle over the weekend distributing flyers about the impending demolition, some were still clinging to hopes of a new life across the Channel.

"They'll have to force us to leave. We want to go to Britain," said Karhazi, a young Afghan among many of the migrants who had their hearts set on Britain, believing it to offer better prospects.

"We have yet to convince some people to accept accommodation and give up their dream of Britain. That's the hardest part," Didier Leschi, head of the French immigration office, said.

Yesterday, migrants explained why they did not wish to leave the camp. Most of those in Calais were said to be from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Africa.

Mohammed (36), who served as a major in the Afghan army, stayed in the caravan that has been home for him, his wife and two sons aged nine and seven, for the past 10 months.

"We've been told we can stay here until Wednesday," he said.

"We will try to stay in the Calais area. We have close relatives in Manchester, my wife's mother and brother. They are British citizens and we are determined to join them. Britain is better than France for our family."

Mohammed said they fled Afghanistan because the Taliban threatened to kill them unless he agreed to take suicide bombers into the army base where he worked as an instructor.

"We've tried to get to Britain 35 times but every time the police stopped us," he said.

Ashran (24), also from Afghanistan, said he would not leave Calais.

Sipping a plastic cup of coffee in a clearing among tents, he said: "I'm not getting in any bus. I want to go to England," he said in fluent English.

"You see these people getting on the buses today? In a couple of weeks they'll be back in Calais, maybe not in this jungle but in another one."

Ashran said he had managed to reach Britain but was arrested and sent to Italy, the first European country he entered, where he was fingerprinted.

"I've been inside trucks, on top of trucks. But every time they catch me."


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