Social workers were outraged on Thursday following an announcement from top local administrator in Calais, in northern France, several migrant camps would be cleared from the town’s port by “next week”.
Following a meeting with humanitarian groups on Wednesday local Prefect Denis Robin told reporters: “I’m going to close three camps on public property at the port next week. It is out of the question that we encourage the setting up of a jungle.”
Up to 850 migrants are believed to be living in Calais at present with as many as 650 at the port alone. The port attracts scores of migrants hoping to smuggle themselves across the Channel to the UK, which some see as having a more generous policy toward refugees.
Authorities have said they will help the most ‘fragile’ of the population living in the camps. For children that means a transfer to a holiday camp 97 km from the port, while adults can request “emergency housing”. Activists say most of the migrant will simply end up in the street.
The migrant camps are being ravaged by an outbreak of scabies, which is a contagious, extremely itchy skin rash caused by a parasite. Local humanitarian groups had called on the prefecture to help fight the infection.
“They’re taking advantage of treating people for scabies to destroy the camp. It’s a waste of equipment and where are the migrants going to go?” Médecins du Monde activist Martine Devries told French daily La Voix du Nord. “We get the feeling the authorities think once everything is destroyed all this will go away.”
The camps in Calais have been a social and political controversy for years. Migrants have built up improvised facilities only to be cleared out periodically by police. The matter has also become a sore spot in cross Channel relations.
Politicians have used the issue to lob criticism, including the Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart who claimed the UK's "generous" refugees benefits were to blame for the camps in her town.
"Calais is a hostage to the British. That's enough. It's no longer tenable. It's necessary to renegotiate these accords. We're not here to do their job," she said, according to The Telegraph back in 2009 during a row over the migrants.
The problem has only gotten worse as the instability in Egypt and the war in Syria have fatten the ranks of migrants waiting to clandestinely climb aboard a lorry or train in Calais. The “Syrian camp” and “African camp” are among those slated for destruction by police in Calais.
It’s unlikely things will get better anytime soon. Port authorities have intercepted some 3,000 illegal migrants so far this year, a ten-fold increase over the 300 caught in the same period last year, French paper Paris Normandie reported.