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Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told the Nord Littoral regional newspaper that he would press ahead with the closure “with the greatest determination”, gradually dismantling the site while also creating accommodation for thousands elsewhere in France “to unblock Calais”.
French authorities have made repeated efforts to shut down the infamous “Jungle” camp, which authorities say is currently home to nearly 7,000 migrants — a sharp increase in recent months.
Some aid groups have put the figure much higher. According to a census by French NGOs l’Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees between August 6 and 9, some 2,000 migrants arrived at the camp in July. This, according to their statistics, increased the population by 29 percent bringing it to approximately 9,106 people. Of those, 865 are minors, and 676 of these are unaccompanied.
Most of the refugees and migrants in the Calais camp come from conflict zones like Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq or other countries with poor human rights records, and have come to Calais with the hope of crossing the English Channel to Britain. Their aim is to smuggle themselves onto lorries boarding the Eurotunnel or the numerous ferries heading to England, where many have relatives or hope to find work.
Earlier this year local authorities cleared shelters in parts of the site in a bid to persuade migrants to move into other accommodation or neighbouring camps on the northern coast.
Since last October over 5,000 asylum seekers have left the northern French town for 161 special centres set up around France.
Intensifying the efforts to get those in Calais to leave voluntarily, 8,000 places in various locations across the country will be created this year, with the majority being for people registering as asylum-seekers, Cazeneuve said. Thousands more places will be made available in 2017, the interior minister added.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo told France Inter radio that two camps will be built in the capital, and that both should be open by the end of September.
“There will be two migrant camps, one for men only, and one for women and children”, Hidalgo told France Inter.
Currently a record 1,900 police are operating in Calais, and Cazeneuve said another 200 would be added to their ranks “to reinforce the battle” against migrants smuggling themselves onto lorries bound for Britain.
The Jungle camp in its current form sprung up in April 2015, quickly growing into a slum village consisting of mainly tents and makeshift huts. In winter 2016, authorities decided to dismantle the southern part of it in a bid to encourage the displaced to instead move into heated containers or tents on the northern rim of the camp, or accept bus rides to welcome centres elsewhere around France in an attempt to ease the pressure on Calais.
Economic pressure on Calais
Adding to the pressure on the government to take action, the Greater Association for the Calais Region (Grand rassemblement du Calaisis), which represents a number of business groups in the Calais region, is lobbying the Elysée presidential palace to declare an “exceptional state of economic catastrophe” in the area.
Solange Leclerc, director of tourism in the Calais Côte d’Opale area, said in July that there has been a 25 percent fall in the overall number of tourists since last year. The port town, just 90 minutes away from Dover and the principal ferry crossing point between France and England, is heavily dependent on this tourist traffic. But today the town is synonymous with the notorious camp and the shocking images in the press of refugees and migrants attempting to board trucks headed for the Channel Tunnel. And the tourists have stopped coming.
The minister said President Francois Hollande would visit Calais in late September.