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Calais mayor set to join protesters during port blockade over migrant camp

Published 01/09/2016

Natacha Bouchart said she wanted to
Natacha Bouchart said she wanted to "show our solidarity" with hauliers and locals living and working amid fears of violence

The mayor of Calais has pledged to turn out in support of protesters set to cause chaos for British travellers during a blockade of the northern French port.

Natacha Bouchart admitted the move would cause "chaos" but that she wanted to "show our solidarity" with hauliers and locals living and working amid fears of violence from organised gangs and migrants.

On a visit to Ashford, Kent, Ms Bouchart insisted the action, which is due to start on Monday, would be for a "good cause" by sending a signal to the French government that the migrant crisis in Calais needs tackling.

Despite efforts to reduce numbers, more than 7,000 migrants from countries including Sudan, Syria and Eritrea are living in the slum known as The Jungle on the outskirts of the port town.

Many have hopes of crossing to Britain to forge new lives but some have taken their lives into their own hands, leading to reinforced security measures around the ports.

Speaking following a meeting with Kent business leaders, Ms Bouchart said the situation in Calais was "unbearable".

Asked whether she will be taking part in Monday's blockade, she said: "The answer is yes. We will be on the field, we will go and greet and say hello to law and order forces.

"We will also say hello to the hauliers and the haulage companies to show our solidarity with their movement and also show to the French government that this is enough.

"This is becoming unbearable and something needs to be done. It is part of our responsibility to do something. We are also asking for a total evacuation of the northern area of the camp.

"We will be there on the field as part of our duty."

She added: "There is chaos every day and every night. We want the French government to take its responsibilities and put an end to this particularly difficult time we are facing."

"There might be chaos and disorder on Monday. This is for a good cause. We want things to change.

"We want to go back to business as usual and renew the serenity that we want to have with you to develop our businesses together."

There has been an escalation in the disorder in Calais in recent weeks, with reports of gangs using trees to block roads before masked men wielding sticks threaten motorists that stop.

The gangmasters then direct migrants to lorries queueing in the ensuing traffic jams in an attempt to stow away aboard vehicles destined for Britain.

Despite the violence, Ms Bouchart insisted Calais was safe. She said: "If you are asking me about security in Calais, we have a lot of CCTV equipment.

"I think and I say today that my city is safe. I walk around myself day and night without bodyguards, so I can guarantee that Calais is a safe town.

"But of course the situation has to be improved and the state has to take its responsibility to put an end to this crisis."

Controversy broke out last month at a proposal to allow migrants to lodge UK asylum claims on French soil - a plan dismissed by a Home Office source as a "complete non-starter".

And there have also been suggestions from France for the border to be moved back to Dover. Ms Bouchart declined to be drawn on the issue, saying it was a matter for member states.

She said: "I cannot judge and I cannot answer this on behalf of the British government. I don't know how many migrants you are prepared to welcome into your country."

This week Britain and France pledged to work together to address the crisis in the wake of questions about the future of co-operation on border controls.

The governments of the two countries presented a united front after a meeting between Home Secretary Amber Rudd and her counterpart, French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

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