More violence in Calais as refugees are moved

UPDATED: Refugees and police clashed for the third night in a row in Calais. The violence comes as the French government steps up efforts to move refugees and migrants out of the New Jungle camp.

More violence in Calais as refugees are moved
Police in the Calais camp. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

Tensions remained high in Calais on Tuesday, a day after refugees were involved in a running battle with police near the infamous New Jungle migrant camp.

Between 11pm and 4am on Monday night around 250 migrants “repeatedly tried to slow down traffic at the port ringroad, by placing different objects in the road,” a spokesperson for the police told AFP.

“Police had to push the migrants back from the ringroad several times,” the spokesperson added.

Access to the port had been closed off for two hours during the night, then opened and closed again several times.

Then as the night went on, things became more violent, with those living in the New Jungle camp pelting police officers and trucks with stones and pulling down road signs. Police responded by firing tear gas at the migrants.

Images on France 3 Televisions showed trucks with smashed windows. 

There was also trouble on Tuesday morning, when at about 9.30 am around 200 to 250 migrants surged onto the Port ring road to try to block it, with several throwing rocks at police.

Riot police arrived on the scene and within half an hour the area had been secured.

Nevertheless, port authorities in Calais are increasingly concerned by the upswing in violence.

“What’s happening is indefensible,” Jean-Marc Puissesseau, president of the Calais Port told France TV.

“We are no longer dealing with nice migrants, but with troublemakers. Attacks against road users cannot be tolerated, because these are our clients. Some lorries were attacked with iron bars. If this degenerates to guerrilla warfare, the reputation and turnover of the port of Calais will be hit.”

On Tuesday night, an hour-long standoff between police and migrants ended with riot police using tear gas and water cannons, after some of the migrants had thrown objects and insults at officers before lighting a wooden pallet on fire.

 “Two-hundred-and-fifty police officers, of which the majority were CRS (riot police), were mobilized Tuesday” to end the disturbances around the migrant  camp, said interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet.

France has stepped up security after the outbreaks of violence, prompting migrants to resort to disrupting traffic on the Calais ring-road. 

They have “often entered the property of local residents to obtain objects that can be used to block the trucks on the ring road” leading to the port, head of the Pas-de-Calais region Fabienne Buccio told a press conference.

Sandy, a resident who lives close to the migrant camps, told AFP: “We no longer feel at home. We live with our windows and shutters closed. We cannoteven go into the garden with our children.”

Similar clashes on Sunday night saw 26 police officers and one migrant injured.

After Sunday's violence Gilles Debove, from the Calais branch of the SGP Police-Force Ouvrière union, told The Local: “The problem is you can't predict what will happen here. We work from day to day.”

Debove added that the vast majority of people in the camp are peaceful, but with security around the Channel Tunnel tightened, migrants are getting more and more frustrated as their attempts to reach the UK are unsuccessful.



New Jungle camp “empties”

French authorities are moving refugees and migrants from the New Jungle to other parts of France to try to relieve pressure on Calais.

The number of migrants in the camp is now said to have dropped to around 4,500 compared to 6,000 in October.

French newspaper Journal du Dimanche claimed the rapid drop in numbers is due to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve's “secret plan” to relocate refugees to administrative centres across the country.

Cazeneuve has come under increasing pressure to act over the squalid conditions of the migrants and it appears he has stepped efforts to relocate refugees around France.

Hotels and other buildings around the country have been transformed into 'Welcome and Orientation Centres' for this purpose.

However, aid associations such as La Cimade are claiming that most of the migrants who have taken part in the scheme simply return to Calais.

They believe the minister is just trying to reduce numbers in the camp in the run up to the regional elections, with the ongoing refugee crisis top of the agenda.

The migrants in Calais are mostly from East Africa and the Middle East, most staying only temporarily in Calais in the hope of ultimately reaching Britain.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.