French court rejects bid to close Calais ‘Jungle’ camp cafes

Jungle Calaise Choppe Restaurant

Jungle Calaise Choppe Restaurant

A French court has rejected a bid to close the 72 cafes and shops in the makeshift migrant camp in Calais, but the local government says it will continue to monitor what it calls a dangerous underground economy.

The Lille court on Friday turned down the demand of the local government (prefecture) of the Pas de Calais region to close the operations – which humanitarian organisations contend are a lifeline for the migrants.

A statement by the prefecture said the installations do not respect sanitation rules, pose a fire risk and are a source of public disorder.

In his ruling, which came after an expedited process, the judge said that, while the concerns expressed were “completely understandable,” the “emergency conditions and public necessity required by law” to justify the expulsion of the vendors had not been met.

Social role of cafes

He also highlighted the social role of the shops, canteens and restaurants where struggling migrants can eat the cuisine of their homelands at a fraction of the cost of a meal in a French restaurant.

The French government provides some free meals, but not enough, according to aid groups.

The judge said he accepted that the outlets lacked “any administrative authorisation” and that some “do not respect the most basic sanitary rules,” but that they served a valuable role as “calm meeting places for the migrants.”

Maya Konforti, secretary of French NGO l’Auberge des Migrants, told FRANCE 24 that the cafes provide other, less obvious, essential services.

“They are places to hang out during the day, to meet people, to charge phones,” she said. The cafes also often provide people arriving to the camp late at night with a free place to sleep until they can get settled during working hours.”

Despite the ruling, the prefecture said it will continue inspections and legal action against what it calls a dangerous underground economy

Local aid workers say the problems aren’t as severe as authorities portray them to be.

“The prefecture talks about hygiene problems and rotten products, but we haven’t recorded any cases of food poisoning,” said Valérie, head of communications at Utopia 56, an aid organisation working with migrants in Calais. “All these little restaurants are supplied daily with fresh products. We, the members of the organisation, eat at them regularly. Everything is cooked and recooked as it is in countries with little refrigeration.”

Rise in camp population

The court’s ruling comes as two local charities supporting migrants reported a surprise increase in the camp’s overall population.

Thousands of migrants and refugees have camped out in the Jungle, hoping to smuggle themselves aboard trucks that are crossing the Channel to Britain either through the Eurotunnel or on ferries.

According to a census conducted by French NGOs l’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees between August 6 and 9, some 2,000 migrants moved into the camp in July, representing a population increase of 29 percent and bringing the overall population to 9,106 people. Of those, 865 are minors, 676 of whom are unaccompanied.

The camp’s overcrowding has increased the risk of fire and generated tensions in ever-longer queues for food and washing facilities, according to the two organisations.
The increase in the camp’s population renders the makeshift restaurants all the more necessary, aid workers say.

The Jules Ferry day center, located near the camp, currently distributes up to 3,500 meals a day and is “incapable of ensuring food for the entire camp,” l’Auberge des Migrants warned. People sometimes have to wait as long as three hours to be fed. A Kitchen in Calais, another kitchen manned by volunteers, serves 1,500 meals a day and a typical queue is approximately 300 people.

The long lines for food can lead to clashes, as evidenced recently when an Ethiopian immigrant was killed on July 26. Furthermore, fights between Sudanese and Afghans at the end of May left 40 people injured.