PARIS — A court in Lille has authorized the French government’s plan to demolish portions of Calais’s infamous refugee camp, the “Jungle.”
Nearly two weeks ago, French officials announced that as many as 1,000 refugees would be evicted from the Jungle’s southern area, its most densely populated sector, and relocated to nearby shelters or to other refugee centers across France. Last week, a group of 200 refugees — along with eight British and French nongovernmental associations — filed an injunction to delay destruction, alleging that local officials did not have sufficient alternative plans to house the refugees facing displacement.
On Thursday, a judge gave the French government a green light to begin destruction, although it is not yet known when demolition will begin. Although the government has claimed that only about 800 to 1,000 refugees will be evicted, a census conducted last week by the organization Help Refugees estimates that as many as 3,400 people from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Sudan, Syria and other places are living in the Jungle’s southern section. This figure includes 445 children, 305 of them living alone without their families.
The vast majority of the refugees are desperately waiting for clearance to enter Britain, just over 20 miles from Calais. In their eyes, leaving Calais would mean abandoning their chances to cross the English Channel.
“We are pleased,” Philippe Mignonet, Calais’s deputy mayor, said of the court’s decision. “We’ve been asking for that for ages.”
As for concrete plans to destroy the camp, Mignonet added that, for now, “it’s wait and see.” Before any demolition begins, however, the refugees and charitable and relief agencies — including L’Auberge des Migrants, Secours Catholique and Care4Calais — said they will appeal.
“Obviously, we are very disappointed, because the case really showed that the authorities didn’t have sufficient alternatives for the people,” said Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais. “I’m almost certain that we’ll be appealing it to the European Court of Human Rights.”
Mignonet disputed the accusation that the authorities did not provide sufficient alternatives for the refugees to be displaced. The government’s plan for displaced refugees is to send them to new container units built on the side of the Jungle or to other centers across France.
“There are a lot of spaces available,” he said. “All the migrants in that area can be driven somewhere in the country. But migrants have got to understand that it’s impossible to stay in Calais forever.”
Earlier on Thursday, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve was quick to dispel the image of government violence against helpless refugees. “There was never any question of the French government sending bulldozers onto the site,” he said.
The judge’s order prohibits French authorities from using force against the refugees, and the demolition is slated to be a “humanitarian operation” that would spare public areas such as the Jungle’s mosques, churches and schools. Mignonet said the aim will instead be “persuasion.”
But if refugees ignore the call to leave, he added, and authorities still do not use force, “it will be a sign of the state’s loss of power.”