French police dismantle large Calais migrant camp after 700 cross Channel to UK in five days

·3 min read
Municipal agents employed in the service of the 'green brigade' speak with Iraqi migrants  - DENIS CHARLET 
Municipal agents employed in the service of the 'green brigade' speak with Iraqi migrants - DENIS CHARLET

French police on Friday dismantled a camp outside Calais housing around 800 migrants seeking to reach Britain in one of the biggest such operations in months.

The move, involving hundreds of officers, followed complaints by local officials of violence and the threat of a permanent settlement.

It was the latest in a string of operations to remove such camps amid a sharp rise in Channel crossings by boat this year - some 568 last weekend and at least 50 on Wednesday alone, taking the total to make the dangerous journey in 2021 to almost 4,000.

The latest surge, which coincided with fine weather and the reopening of borders within the EU as Covid lockdown measures are eased, prompted MPs to issue a call on the government to pressure France to take migrants back at sea.

French authorities have stopped many others after ramping up patrols on land and at sea.

Reacting to the police operation at the site - a former industrial plant near Calais’ hospital, southeast of the centre, local authorities said: "Several hundred migrants were identified on the premises, including about 30 children.”

In a tweet, Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, said: "Thank you to the security forces who are mobilised and to the agents who are working on providing shelter”.

The operation had been launched at his initiative and with judicial approval, he added.

The northern French port thought it had seen the end of mass arrivals of migrants hoping to stow away in trains, ferries and small boats after police razed the notorious “Jungle’ camp in 2016 housing 10,000 people.

However, aid groups and NGOs say its removal has simply displaced the problem leaving migrants in even more precarious conditions with no access to basic sanitation or food.

Migrants sit near a bus and a securite civile vehicle as police supervise the evacuation of a camp on the road to Saint-Omer near Calais, northern France - DENIS CHARLET 
Migrants sit near a bus and a securite civile vehicle as police supervise the evacuation of a camp on the road to Saint-Omer near Calais, northern France - DENIS CHARLET
Police supervise the evacuation of a migrant camp on the road to Saint-Omer near Calais - AFP
Police supervise the evacuation of a migrant camp on the road to Saint-Omer near Calais - AFP
municipal agents employed in the service of the 'green brigade' walk in the Grande Synthe migrant camp - DENIS CHARLET 
municipal agents employed in the service of the 'green brigade' walk in the Grande Synthe migrant camp - DENIS CHARLET

Local residents complain about rubbish and crime, while police periodically intervene to stop violence in the camps, often between different nationalities or ethnic groups. An Eritrean has been arrested over a stabbing during a fight at the camp on Tuesday night. Francois Guennoc, head of the Auberge des migrants group, said the police operation would make no difference.

"In any case, people move, they go somewhere else. It's an endless journey," he told AFP. "Everyone is turning in circles: refugees, authorities and associations.”

He estimated around 1,500 migrants and refugees were in Calais.

The police operation comes just two weeks before regional elections in which the issue of immigration and security are likely to loom large.

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