French court gives go-ahead to Jungle camp evictions
A French court has ruled that mass evictions will go ahead at part of the Jungle camp in Calais of migrants and refugees intent on reaching Britain.
A judge in Lille agreed to a partial dismantlement of the camp's southern area, apart from schools and places of worship, aid agencies said.
State authorities say up to 1,000 people will be affected by the plans to relocate them from the slum site to heated containers nearby or to centres around France.
But aid workers say the figure is likely to be much higher. The Help Refugees charity said its own analysis revealed there were 3,455 people living in the affected area.
And Save the Children said nearly 400 unaccompanied children who have fled war, poverty and persecution live in the cold, squalid, rat-infested area now set to be bulldozed.
For many of the approximately 4,000 people in the Jungle, getting past the miles of razor-topped fencing near the ports to reach Britain is their ultimate goal.
French state authorities last week gave migrants and refugees until 8pm local time (7pm GMT) on Tuesday to quit their homes but their eviction has been held up pending the ruling.
The plans to move people from part of the Jungle were announced by Prefect Fabienne Buccio, the top official in France's northern Pas-de-Calais region.
Ms Buccio said this month: "It's time to tell the migrants of Calais, who live in undignified conditions and give Calais an image that isn't dignified either, that we have a solution for each of you."
But aid agencies say there are not enough containers to house the thousands who would be displaced by the bulldozers.
Some migrants said they if they are evicted they would be forced to leave behind close-knit communities forged in the Jungle, with shops, schools and churches.
Mayor of Calais Natacha Bouchart said last week that the dismantling of the camp would keep migrants and refugees away from activists bent on causing disruption.
She said it was a "sensitive situation" that required "necessary firmness". And she added the conditions endured at the Jungle were "unworthy of human nature".
Aid workers fear mass eviction will result in the problems being shifted elsewhere, such as to the swamp-like Grande-Synthe camp along the northern French coast in Dunkirk.
Fearing an influx of migrants and refugees from Calais, Belgium announced it was reintroducing border checks with France to block any Jungle evictees.
Belgian interior minister Jan Jambon said it was temporarily suspending the Schengen agreement on free movement to deal with people leaving the camp - some 20 miles from its border.
Help Refugees said it would be appealing against the decision immediately. Volunteers said they were "shocked" by the ruling. No timescale on when the evictions will begin has been given.
Help Refugees said in a statement: "We will do everything in our power to assist the refugees and minimise their trauma."
George Gabriel, of Citizens UK, said: "We are hugely disappointed that the area of the camp which is home to so many families and unaccompanied children will be demolished before proper new provision has been made.
"We know that unaccompanied children who have full legal rights to be with their families in the UK are among those who will be displaced, and we are concerned for their safely and their futures.
"The UK government has a legal and moral duty to reunite unaccompanied children with their families in the UK, and we urge them to do this as quickly as possible."
Leigh Daynes, UK director of Doctors of the World, said: "The partial demolition of the camp is outrageous.
"Although conditions there are abhorrent, bulldozers are not the answer. There are no credible, adequate alternatives to the makeshift shelters refugees have been forced to erect.
"Thousands of refugees, including hundreds of lone children, will lose their homes and be forced into hiding across northern France, jeopardising further their safety and health."
Ginny Howells, Save the Children's emergency manager in Calais, said it was vital children were kept safe throughout the eviction process.
She said: "The decision to go ahead with bulldozing the southern part of the Calais refugee camp will make what was already an appalling situation for children even worse.
"Homes and shelters will be destroyed without there being enough spaces in the new accommodation for people to move into."
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said razing part of the camp was not the solution, adding that assurances should be given that the refugees will be treated humanely during the evictions.
He said: "These people are trying to look for a place of peace where they can make a new life for them and their family, at least until it's safe enough to return home. These measures will not help one jot to deal with the issue."
But British hauliers welcomed the judgment. The Freight Transport Association (FTA) said disruption caused by migrants cost the UK freight industry an estimated £750,000 a day last year.
FTA officials said a solution needed to be found to protect the £89 billion worth of UK trade which passes through the cross-Channel ports annually.
The FTA's head of European policy, Pauline Bastidon, said: "We appreciate the need for careful consideration as the clearance of the camp could be seen as violating the fundamental rights of the migrants.
"However, considerations should also be given to the rights of our members to go about their work without fear of violence or intimidation."