Calais: Critics Including Le Pen Denounce Refugee Camp Upgrade

The French announcement of a €5 million (£3.65 million) upgrade to turn ‘The Jungle’ tent city at Calais into a fully appointed refugee camp has attracted criticism from all sides, including Marine Le Pen. Aid groups claim the move is inadequate but politicians warn it risks repeating the mistakes of the notorious Sangatte Red Cross welcome centre.

During a visit to Calais this week the French Prime Minster Manuel Valls (pictured above inspecting soldiers charged with security at the French entrance to the Eurotunnel) announced a European Union grant to France for upgrading ‘The Jungle’ into a full humanitarian refugee camp for those seeking to reach Britain.

However, when completed in 2016 the upgrade will only house 1,500 migrants, falling far short of the roughly 4,000 predominantly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants already on site. Humanitarian organisations have expressed their bitter disappointment at the “half measure” offered by the new refugee camp, reports The Local.

Organisations like Solidarités International and Secours Catholiques suggest migrants would be better redistributed around permanent sites across France rather than packed in to one camp. Thierry Benlahsen of Solidarités Internationales told The Local migrants are living in bad conditions as “inhumane” as in any refugee camp around the world, saying:

“We have reached the limit of humane standards that are unacceptable not just in places like France and Britain, but in the likes of Jordan and Darfur.”

Since the early closure of the Sangatte Red Cross welcome centre in 2002, the French government resisted calls to provide permanent refugee facilities at Calais citing fears it would become a focal point for migrants seeking to reach Britain.

For three years from 1999 Sangatte sheltered Kosovan war refugees. Intended to house a few hundred people, Sangatte ended up holding over 2,000 migrants from all over the world. Aid groups said the centre, where inter-ethnic violence was rife, ended up being run by mafia-led trafficking gangs.

Eventually, following pressure from local authorities and the British government, France’s then Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy closed the centre which had become a launch pad from which to reach the UK.

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National party, has warned that the new refugee camp will again act as a focal point describing the announced upgrade as a “spectacular move backwards.” Former Minister of Justice and ally of Sarkozy, Rachida Dati MEP, said the creation of the camp would mean “Valls is complicit with the people smugglers because it would be an open-invitation for immigrants.”

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who accompanied Valls on his visit to Calais, attempted to allay such fears saying the new refugee camp will be nothing like Sangatte, instead being run by policy-driven officials and consisting of tents rather than a fixed building.

Having already contributed to other facilities in Calais the British government, in the form of the Home Office, has confirmed it will not be doing so for this planned upgrade.

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