IN PICS: Work begins on anti-migrant ‘Great wall of Calais’

Building work began this week on a wall in the northern French city of Calais to clamp down on repeated attempts by migrants to stow away on trucks heading for Britain.

IN PICS: Work begins on anti-migrant 'Great wall of Calais'
Photo: AFP

The British-funded wall, dubbed the “Great Wall of Calais” and set to stand at one kilometre (half a mile) long and four metres (13 feet) high, will pass within a few hundred metres of the sprawling migrant camp known as the “Jungle”, which charities say now houses more than 10,000 people.

The concrete wall will extend the wire fences that already run down each side of the main road leading to the city's port.


It has been widely criticised by rights groups and by local residents who say it will fail to stop migrants from trying to board trucks.

Britain is paying the €2.7 million ($3 million) cost of the wall, which local authorities in Calais say will be completed by the end of the year.

The Jungle camp has become a sore point in relations between France and Britain, the main destination for most of the migrants who gather there.

Migrants from the camp sometimes use tree branches to create roadblocks to slow trucks heading for Britain.

When the trucks slow down, migrants try to clamber into the trailers to stow away as the vehicles head to Britain through the Channel Tunnel or on ferries.

Just last week, a 14-year-old Afghan boy was killed by a car in Calais as he tried to get onto a truck.


'Money down the drain'

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this month the Jungle would be closed down “as quickly as possible” but said it would be done in stages.

Calais residents want the government to set a date for the entire camp to be razed.

Local authorities say the wall is also designed to dissuade people traffickers from operating around the Jungle.

It will be made of concrete panels that can be removed when no longer needed.

“This wall is going to prevent migrants from getting onto the road every night. They put tree trunks, branches, gas cylinders” in the road to stop the trucks, Calais port chief executive Jean-Marc Puissesseau said earlier this month.

“We can no longer continue to put up with these repeated assaults,” he said.

But critics of the wall have compared it to those erected by central European countries to block the entry of migrants from southern Europe.


Others say it is pointless.

Francois Guennoc, vice president of the L'Auberge des Migrants charity which works with Jungle residents, said to be effective the wall would have to stretch for dozens of kilometres. It was “money down the drain”, he told AFP.

The Jungle's population has increased by more than 1,000 since August to more than 10,000, charities said Monday.

The figures are disputed by French authorities, who according to the last official count on August 19 put the number of migrants at 6,900.

Migrants from Sudan make up the largest group at 43 percent, according to L'Auberge des Migrants and the British non-governmental organisation Help Refugees, while 33 percent are from Afghanistan.

Around nine percent are Eritreans and seven percent are Pakistanis.

The charities also noted an alarming rise in the number of minors in the camp with 1,179 now living there, and they noted that most were unaccompanied.

The youngest was just eight years old.


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.