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TRAFFIC

Calais: French strikers put protest on hold

The port at Calais in northern France partially reopened on Thursday as ferry workers suspended protests that have blocked access for three consecutive days. However ferry services remained limited and strikers have threatened more action.

Calais: French strikers put protest on hold
Trucks are parked on carriageways of the M20 motorway near Ashford in Kent in south-east England, on Wednesday, waiting to board ferries to France. Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP

There was some slight relief for travellers and truckers trying to get across the Channel on Thursday as striking French sailors suspended their blockade of the port.

Ahead of a meeting with Transport Minister Alain Vidalies on Thursday morning, the workers “will maintain pressure on the ships, but will let boats from the company P&O enter one by one… until the end of the negotiations,” said Eric Vercoutre, secretary general of the Maritime Nord union.

The British government has become increasingly alarmed at the knock-on effects the strike has had both in Britain and around Calais.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke to French President Francois Hollande about the problem and on Thursday the Home Secretary Theresa May was due in Paris for talks with Franc's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to try to resolve the problem.

 

 

But thousands of trucks still piled up on both sides of the Channel it will be a while before things returns to normal and P&O ferry operator is still advising passengers to rearrange travel.

 

 

 

The workers from French company MyFerryLink are protesting plans to sell off some of their ferries to rival Danish firm DFDS, a move expected to result in hundreds of job losses.

The protest caused havoc on both sides of the Channel, with British police closing off sections of motorway to park some 3,000 trucks waiting to board ferries to France at Dover.

However the crisis may not quite be over with union leaders having threatened more action on Wednesday.

The union's Vercoutre, who has been a spokesman for the strikers, has threatened to up the ante on Thursday and Friday, which could see them again try to block the Channel Tunnel.

Vercoutre says the thought of riot police intervening to break up their blockade of Calais does not scare them.

Earlier this week Vercoutre, the spokesman for the strikers said promising “to block everything” if they didn't get their way and has also warned of a “summer of much disruption.”

Over on the English side of the Channel authorities and haulage associations have grown exacerbated by the French strike.

Ellis Evans, a Welsh truck driver, told The Local that he's been stuck in queues for nearly nine hours. 
 
“There are trucks as far as I can see in front of me, and the queue is five miles long. And people are saying it's the hottest day of the year – the sun is right above us – it's not the kind of day you want to be stuck in a little tin box.”
 
He'd heard that he might be waiting up to 48 hours, with no facilities of any kind around, not even toilets, and while he'd heard that people were giving out water, he was yet to see any.
 
Despite suffering under the heat, Evans said he had some sympathy for the French strikers in Calais. 
 
“I can sympathise with them, they're losing their jobs, the rug has been pulled out from under their feet. But they're damaging local business and commerce, and there is a bit of animosity from some people stuck here towards there cause,” he said.
 
Peter Cullum from the British Road Haulage Association told The Local on Wednesday that the French government should act as the travel chaos was causing a security threat in a country already on high terror alert.

“I can't understand why they are not invoking this to keep traffic moving. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this is a security issue. At the moment people are stranded all over northern France.”

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POLICE

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais

French police are inflicting misery on migrants in the northern port of Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Thursday.

French police cause misery for migrants in Calais
A migrant camp is evacuated by police forces in Calais in February 2019. Photo: Philippe HUGUEN / AFP.

The 75-page report documents methods used by authorities to prevent the emergence of another major migrant settlement in Calais, five years after the demolition of the sprawling “Jungle” camp which housed up to 10,000 people at its peak.

Calais has for years been a rallying point for migrants from the Middle East, Asia and Africa trying to sneak across the English Channel to Britain.

Faced with growing public anti-migrant sentiment, President Emmanuel Macron’s government has waged a campaign to prevent new camps emerging.

Police tactics include systematically tearing down migrants’ tents in the woods, on wasteland or under bridges, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid, according to New York-based HRW.

“The authorities carry out these abusive practices with the primary purposes of forcing people to move elsewhere, without resolving their
migration status or lack of housing, or of deterring new arrivals,” it said in the report entitled “Enforced Misery: The Degrading Treatment of Migrant Children and Adults in Northern France”.

‘Harass and abuse’

NGOs estimate the number of migrants currently living around Calais at between 1,500 and 2,000, including numerous families. Local authorities estimate that only 500 remain in the area.

Last week, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered the eviction of a camp housing 400 migrants near a hospital in Calais, which was presented as a danger to the hospital’s patients and staff.

On that occasion the migrants were taken to temporary shelters but often they are left to wander the streets.

“When the police arrive, we have five minutes to get out of the tent before they destroy everything,” a Kurdish woman from Iraq told HRW.

The interior ministry did not respond to AFP’s request for comment on the report.

The government argues that the camps are havens for people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

NGOs argue that the tactics do nothing more than make migrants already difficult lives even more miserable.

The report quoted the Calais-based Human Rights Observers group as saying that in some cases cleaning crews cut migrants’ tents while people are still inside, in order to force them out.

“If the aim is to discourage migrants from gathering in northern France, these policies are a manifest failure and result in serious harm,” Benedicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch, said.

French authorities “need a new approach to help people, not repeatedly harass and abuse them,” she added.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

“Exiles aren’t travelling to northern France because they’ve heard they can camp in the woods or stay under a bridge…They come because that’s where the border is,” Charlotte Kwantes, national coordinator of the Utopia 56 charity was quoted in the report as saying.

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