The French interior minister has vowed to dismantle The Jungle migrant camp outside Calais and relocate the migrants to centres around France. His promise comes as Calais locals prepare to blockade the town by taking part in a ‘go slow’ protest on the city’s roads.
The Jungle was partially cleared at the beginning of the year, with much of the southern half of the camp bulldozed to the ground. Despite the intervention, however, numbers within the camp have continued to climb month on month over the summer – and violence in the area has escalated.
Speaking to local newspaper Nord Littoral, Bernard Cazeneuve sought to reassure locals by setting out a plan to wind down the camp and relocate the migrants.
“We dismantled the southern area in early March, and we have already begun to dismantle the north,” he said. “This has to be done in stages, starting with creating more accommodation places in France, so as to relieve Calais.”
When asked whether it was feasible to dismantle a camp of 10,000 people – the number of migrants in The Jungle as estimated by local aid groups – Cazeneuve denied it would be that many.
He insisted that the true figure was closer to 6,900, and that the migrants could be dealt with by bussing them to purpose-built accommodation blocks across the country; a tactic which has failed in the past.
The French government plans to create 2,000 new accommodation places by the end of this year, and a further 5,000 in 2017, in addition to the 10,000 already on offer, Mr. Cazeneuve said.
In addition, recognising that the number of migrants in the camp has again swelled considerably since the demolition efforts in March, 200 more police officers have been assigned to the area, bringing the total up to 2,100.
“There were 950 police and gendarmes in Calais in 2014 – which was already a significant figure. In two years, I’ve more than doubled the numbers,” he said.
On Tuesday Mr. Cazeneuve met with the British Home Secretary Amber Rudd to discuss co-operation on the matter. Britain has already donated €100 million, he said, which had gone towards fortifying the entrance to the channel tunnel. A moat was dug and woodland cleared in order to prevent migrants accessing the tracks and climbing aboard lorries.
In addition, the two countries have been working together on tackling smuggling gangs.
“With British help, and thanks to the exemplary work of the border police, we have dismantled since the beginning of the year 29 illegal immigration networks to the UK – 11 more than during the same period last year; we have arrested 574 smugglers and, and we have deported 1145 illegal immigrants.
“We will further strengthen cooperation with the British.
“This too is certain,” he said.
The assertive stance displayed by Mr. Cazeneuve is designed to placate the people of Calais, who are currently planning a protest on the city’s roads until the camp is dismantled.
Calais mayor Natascha Bouchart has announced that she will be supporting the protest by joining it.
“We will be in the field, we will go and greet and say hello to law and order forces,” she announced, following a meeting with Kent businesses.
“We will also say hello to the hauliers and the haulage companies to show our solidarity with their movement and also show to the French government that this is enough.
“This is becoming unbearable. It is part of our responsibility to do something. We are also asking for a total evacuation of the northern area of the camp. There is chaos every day and every night. We want the French government to take seriously its responsibilities.
“There might be chaos and disorder on Monday. This is for a good cause. We want things to change. We want to go back to business as usual and renew the serenity that we want to have with you to develop our businesses together.”
The area around The Jungle camp has seen a marked increase in violent episodes, as migrant gangs have taken to blockading the roads with branches and debris before climbing aboard lorries caught up in the ensuing traffic jams.
In a recent high-profile attack, leading horsewoman Lucy Phillips described how her horsebox was ambushed by migrants as she returned from the world championships in Le Mans on Monday.
Having stopped the vehicle by placing debris in the road, the migrants banged on the sides of the vehicle with makeshift bats, scaring her horse and smashing the passenger window in the cab.
They were eventually scared away by police, but Ms Phillips was only escorted a little further along the road. They then “left us and we had to drive back through Calais on our own,” she told Horse & Hound.
“It was full of groups of young men, all dressed in dark clothing. They were just milling around, not really doing anything, but it was terrifying because of course we had no passenger window.”
Ms Bouchart has dismissed fears that Calais itself is not safe, saying: “If you are asking me about security in Calais, we have a lot of CCTV equipment.
“I think and I say today that my city is safe. I walk around myself day and night without bodyguards, so I can guarantee that Calais is a safe town. But of course the situation has to be improved and the state has to take its responsibility to put an end to this crisis.”
“The truth is, we are doing everything we can for Calais,” Mr Cazeneuve said.