Partial demolition of Calais camp to go ahead

Authorities have said they will use force if necessary to evict the refugees (Reuters)
Authorities have said they will use force if necessary to evict the refugees (Reuters)

By Matthias Blamont

A French judge has upheld a government plan to partially demolish a shanty town for migrants trying to reach Britain on the outskirts of the northern port of Calais.

"The order is applicable, except for common social areas," the spokesman for the Pas-de-Calais prefect's office said on Thursday (local time).

"So it won't be applicable to places such as schools, a theatre and a legal office."

An official deadline for at least 1000 migrants to leave the southern part of the so-called "jungle" camp expired on Tuesday and the authorities have said they will use force if necessary to move them to alternative accommodation in a nearby container park and other reception centres.

Their repeated efforts to force their way through the Channel Tunnel or to stow away aboard trucks have disrupted traffic across the vital link between France and Britain, caused tension with the local population and forced French police to maintain a large deployment in the area.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this week the evacuation would be gradual and that there were sufficient places for all either in the region or elsewhere in France.

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said on BFM TV she was relieved by the decision.

Belgium stepped up checks at its nearby border on Wednesday to prevent "jungle" residents entering the country to try to reach Britain from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.

Cazeneuve criticised the Belgian move as "odd", saying it had not been notified in advance and he did not think moving migrants out of the squalid camp would prompt many to move north along the Channel coast to Belgian ports.

The court did not immediately publish details of the decision by Judge Valerie Quemener, who was responding to an appeal by some 250 residents and nine charity groups for an injunction suspending the evacuation.

Altogether some 4000 people are believed to live in the "jungle", down from about 6000 in September. The authorities would like to see this number fall to around 2000.

Humanitarian groups say forced evictions would breach the migrants' fundamental rights.

The government says other various reception centres spread across France can absorb the remaining migrants, with 600 beds immediately available, but many refugees say they will continue to try to reach Britain, where they believe a better life awaits them.