Benoit Tessier / Reuters

France to bulldoze parts of Calais camp, evict refugees, aid workers say

Aid groups hurry to provide alternative housing for refugees unprepared for winter weather

Hundreds of refugees living in the “Jungle,” a camp in Calais in northern France, will soon be evicted and have their shelters bulldozed, aid workers said Tuesday, slamming local authorities for their decision to dismantle the squalid encampment. 

“Someone needs to think about a real solution, not just for these refugees but for all of the refugees stuck across Europe,” said Clare Moseley, the founder of the U.K.-based charity Care 4 Calais. “These are ordinary people that bad things have happened to. They’re here because they have no choice. We should be thinking about how we can help them, and I don’t think that’s going on.” 

Up to 2,000 camp residents could be displaced if the plan goes ahead, she warned. The informal camp, more than a square mile in size, houses an estimated 5,000 refugees from war-torn countries, including Syria, Afghanistan and Sudan. 

Many of the refugees who made the dangerous journey to France by land and sea believed that once they arrived in Europe, they would be treated fairly and allowed to apply for asylum in whichever country they chose, Moseley said.

Thousands of refugees gathered in Calais, where they planned to cross through the nearby Channel Tunnel, which links France and England, to join friends and family in the U.K. However, authorities on both sides have cracked down on illegal crossings. By evicting the refugees and bulldozing their shelters, French authorities aim to curb the migration.

“That’s the stated intention,” Moseley said. “But there’s lots of suspicion that there’s a secondary agenda … to reduce the camp size and get people to start to leave [the camp].”

The camp, which is administered mostly by volunteers, is poorly equipped. Residents complain of cold, wet and unsanitary conditions as well as ill treatment from security forces that patrol the grounds around the clock.

Refugees who protest their conditions are often met with force, said Dave King, an activist with Jungle Canopy, a U.K.-based charity that provides donated trailers to camp residents. “The riot police fire tear gas and rubber bullets, while the local extreme right stand behind them and hurl rocks. It’s madness,” he said. “It is clear, deliberate escalation by the authorities.” He added that tear gas is sometimes fired into the family areas of the camp.

The French government has constructed a residency center in Calais to provide refugees respite from the winter weather. However, it’s not large enough to house all the camp’s residents.

Jean-François Cordet, the government-appointed prefect for Pas-de-Calais, has said that any refugee unable to secure a bed at the Calais center would be provided free transportation to other centers in the country and encouraged to apply for asylum. But France has a poor record of granting asylum to refugees, and many fear they will be deported.

France accepted only 500 Syrian refugees for resettlement in 2014 but vowed in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris attacks to accept 30,000 Syrian refugees in the next few years.

“No one wants to go in there,” Moseley said of the Calais center. “They say they’re using some kind of palm print system, and refugees are scared of that.”

With no other options, many refugees have chosen to remain in their tents and makeshift shelters, which are now under threat of being bulldozed.

In preparation for the coming winter weather and mass eviction, Care 4 Calais and other groups have been scouring the camp to find abandoned tents to refurbish for anyone made homeless this week.

“Another group is trying to clear any bushes or land where we could put up tents. We’re trying to stockpile tents and have posted messages on social media to anyone coming here this weekend to bring tents and blankets,” Moseley said.

“We’re talking to mosques and churches to see if people could sleep there for a couple of days,” she added. “People need to be human and help others in trouble.”

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