Following pressure from the UK, the French government has vowed to destroy the camp – known locally a “the jungle” – to discourage traffickers and would-be migrants from using Calais as the main staging area to smuggle people on board lorries headed across the Channel.
But the announcement last week by immigration minister Eric Besson that the jungle would be dismantled within days gave the camp’s occupants ample opportunity to leave the area.
Charity workers who regularly administer medical aid and food to the thousands of so-called “sans papiers” (without papers) that flock to Calais area every year say those inside the camp are determined not to be caught by the crackdown. Some have even gone as far as burning their hands in order not to be identified by their fingerprints.
Monique Delannoy, president of Beautiful Star, one of a handful of organisations that help migrants in a country where aiding a sans papiers is technically illegal, said many of the camp’s 800 residents began leaving last week when M. Besson made his announcement.
“Until recently, they were 700 to 800 in the Calais jungles, now there are about 250,” she said. “The news of the evacuation has gone round so they went further afield.” Some have suggested that there may be as few as 30 or 40 remaining.
Patrick Delouvin, president of the French Coalition for the Rights of Asylum Seekers (CFDA), said migrants were going to extreme lengths not to be identified because they were terrified of being either sent back to their first port of entry in the EU (usually Greece) or their homelands.
Home Secretary Alan Johnston yesterday said he was “delighted” to hear that France was closing the camp. He added: “Both countries are committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach.”
Migrants have been living in variety of camps and squats around Calais ever since the closure of the Sangatte refugee camp seven years ago. Their presence has become a major bone of contention between Britain and France, who both accuse each other of not doing enough to discourage the migrants.
The jungle to the east of Calais town centre, close to where many of the lorries stop before boarding onto ferries, has been the main gathering point for Afghans, Iraqis and a small contingent of Iranians. A number of squats closer into town have been taken over by east Africans, mainly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Sudanese. Most refuse to claim asylum in France because the UK is their ultimate goal.
While the French government, including Calais’ town mayor, are determined to crack down on the migrants, critics say removing the jungle will simply force the refugees to set up camps further away from the town.
Mme Delannoy added: “This will solve absolutely nothing. Eventually the migrants will return to the area because England will always be 45km from Calais.”