Last February, the French government began destroying part of the the “Jungle,” a sprawling migrant camp set up in the northern town of Calais. Thousands of asylum-seekers had gathered there in hopes they would find their way into Britain by way of the English Channel tunnel. Many tried to sneak in by hiding on trucks lined up to enter the tunnel, causing traffic jams that backed up for miles and prompting backlash from both countries’ far-right parties who said the masses of displaced were a security threat to both Britain and France.
The partial destruction last February caused riots at the camp, and police responded by spraying asylum-seekers with tear gas while they watched their makeshift homes burn to the ground.
So the second time France decided to go about shutting down the camp, which has grown to house some 7,000 people from around the world, authorities tried to be more organized. On Monday, some 3,000 of the camp residents lined up to be sorted onto buses that will disperse them to 451 different migration centers across the country. Others will be dispersed over the course of this week.
Leonard Doyle, a spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, told Foreign Policy in a phone call on Monday that this effort is “certainly more determined,” but warned against seeing this round of clearing out as the end of the Calais camp.
“Whether it’s final can be a rash thing to say given that these things have a habit of just coming back when they least want them to,” Doyle said.
The largest concern for organizations like IOM is the number of unaccompanied minors included in the overall headcount. The camp has housed around 1,300 unaccompanied minors, some of whom were relocated to the United Kingdom last week, where they joined family members living there who they had been trying to reach when they first arrived in Calais.
But there are many more vulnerable youngsters left to be sorted. “1,300 unaccompanied minors, that’s a really scary number,” Doyle said.
For adults, there is now a long road ahead to try to seek asylum in either the EU or Britain. The French government tried to tell those being forced out of the camp that moving elsewhere will actually make that process easier.
“The immense majority of migrants present at Calais are eligible for international protection,” the French Interior Ministry said in a statement about the camp’s closure. It also said that moving out of squalor in Calais will allow former residents to “serenely envisage a request for asylum in France.”
Doyle commended the more organized effort to shut down the camp, which was in such poor conditions that it made the risk of health problems and human trafficking even higher. But he said said there’s “no doubt” that there are shortcomings in the French plan for the thousands of migrants they’re moving this week, including a more solid long-term plan that will help relocate people permanently instead of moving them from one place to another. That solution, is key, he said, because the informal camp in Calais is “part of a wider phenomenon.”
“The ‘Jungle’ is one place but it could pop up anywhere,” he said.
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