PARIS — British authorities confirmed Tuesday that construction will begin this month on a concrete wall in Calais intended to keep migrants and refugees from the city’s port, where they frequently attempt to stow away on U.K.-bound trucks and ferries.
“This measure is intended to further protect the Rocade from migrant attempts to disrupt, delay and even attack vehicles approaching the port,” the British Home Office said in an emailed statement. The Rocade is an access road leading into the port.
On Monday, French truck drivers and local residents protested against the large migrant camp outside the city, blocking traffic and insisting that migrants and refugees have increasingly resorted to violence to gain passage to Britain, 20 miles across the English Channel.
Tuesday’s update from U.K. Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill on what local residents immediately began calling on social media the “Great Wall of Calais” came days after the French government pledged, again, to close the “Jungle” encampment outside Calais. Goodwill declined to comment further.
In the camp, 7,000 to 9,000 refugees and migrants — mostly from Afghanistan and Sudan — live in squalid conditions and legal limbo. Nearly equidistant from London and Paris, the Jungle has become an arresting symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis, no longer confined to the continent’s periphery.
The wall, a crucial part of a $22.65 million Franco-British security package agreed to in early March, is slated to be about 13 feet high and made of smooth concrete, a material that is difficult to scale.
Almost instantly, a pro-immigrant segment of the British government voiced concerns, saying the Calais wall could send the same message of exclusion commonly associated with the controversial proposal by Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Alf Dubs, a member of the House of Lords and the lead sponsor of a recent amendment to welcome into Britain more unaccompanied migrant children, called the idea “stupid.” Dubs was once a child refugee in Britain, brought there as part of the famous Kindertransports that saved the lives of nearly 10,000 Jewish children in World War II.
“It sends an appalling message after the disaster of the Brexit vote,” he said, referring to the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. “It sends an appalling message of us being a small, nasty, inward-looking country.”
As part of a 2003 agreement between Britain and France, the British border technically extends to the shores of northern France, which has made Calais a prime destination for migrants and refugees in the past year. Largely because of linguistic, cultural and familial ties, many migrants are still hoping for asylum in Britain.
Meanwhile, the city of Paris announced Tuesday the details of its plan to become the first densely populated European city to create a space within city limits to welcome and house migrants. Anne Hidalgo, the city’s Socialist mayor, told reporters that a new facility would open in mid-October in the French capital, initially for 400 and with room to expand to 600.
“We must invent new devices to overcome the current situation, which is a situation of saturation,” Hidalgo said.