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French President François Hollande said on a visit to the northern port of Calais Monday that the sprawling “Jungle” camp there must be “completely dismantled”.
Hollande, on his first visit to Calais as president, also called on Britain to “play its part” in resolving the migrant crisis.
Most of the migrants in the camp, mainly from Sudan and Afghanistan, want to go to Britain and try to stow away on lorries heading across the Channel.
“I am determined to see British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is undertaking here,” Hollande said, flanked by security forces.
The president is due to meet police, port officials and local politicians but is not expected to visit the camp itself.
The “Jungle” holds between 7,000 and 10,000 people, according to various estimates.
Calais authorities are building a wall funded by Britain to prevent migrants from smuggling themselves onto lorries heading to the port.
Hollande’s visit comes just days after one by his conservative predecessor Sarkozy – who is hoping to make a comeback as president, with a harsh line on migration a key part of his campaign.
While in the port city he will meet with police, local politicians, business leaders and representatives from civil society groups, but he is not expected to visit the camp itself.
Migration has been a low-key issue under Hollande’s four-year-old presidency.
But he has been forced to take a visible stance on the issue, under pressure from brash right-winger Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Each are promoting platforms of security, patriotism and national interest in early campaigning for next year’s elections.
Operations to begin soon
Under pressure from the right wing, Hollande on Saturday said the dismantlement of the “Jungle” camp will happen “before winter”, and a flurry of preparations that are under way there suggest the operation may begin shortly.
But plans to relocate the migrants have sparked controversy and protests, with local residents in areas where new shelters could be established vehemently opposed to the move.
The “Jungle” camp has also become a sore point in relations between France and Britain.
Last week, building work began on a British-funded wall to clamp down on repeated attempts by migrants to stow away on trucks heading for Britain.
Rights groups have also strongly criticised the difficulties and dangers facing the thousands of migrants living in the camp, with a 14-year-old Afghan boy killed by a car just last week as he tried to get onto a truck.