The center-right mayor of the French port city of Calais has banned charities from distributing food to prevent a new migrant Jungle camp on the edge of her city.
Natacha Bouchart has stepped in to stop aid groups from feeding migrants by approving new restrictions on Thursday. Bouchart said that she understood the situation “from a human standpoint,” but she was not going to give in to aid groups.
Police are operating what they call a “zero tolerance policy” on migrants, rounding them up to send them to official accommodation centres elsewhere in France.
After issuing an order to halt all food distribution on the site of the so-called ‘Jungle’ camp, which was demolished last October, Bouchart said long-term concerns are more important than immediate relief action. “We have suffered too much,” said Bouchart, a member of the center-right Les Republicains.
Officials have already obstructed attempts by local charities to open showers for teenage migrants in the town, the Guradian reported. Charities and the local authorities are now locked in a court battle over the city’s moves.
“It’s not a directive against the distribution of meals, but against gatherings because these lead to law and order issues as well as security and waste problems. I took this decision to make sure that no permanent base or squat is created around Calais,” Bouchart told AFP.
Calais has become increasingly politically conservative and anti-leftist, turning to the FN since the original camp was set up in 1999.
Utopia56, a humanitarian aid group, claim officers fired tear gas at volunteers and teenagers who were standing in line for food on Thursday. The charity told La Voix du Nord that they will continue to feed the migrants “for the simple reason that they are hungry,” even if they have to move their operation underground.
Sarah Arrom, said police stopped them handing out breakfast to about 30 teenagers in a field near the motorway outside the city. “They wanted to stop the distribution and they wanted to stop people from sleeping in the area,” she said. “There has never been teargas before when we’ve been trying to hand out food.”
Arrom said: “Conditions are becoming more and more problematic for the migrants. They don’t sleep, they can’t take a shower, they are more and more tired. We are really worried about their future.”
Posters advertising the mayoral decree have appeared around the remnants of the ‘Jungle,’ explaining the new rules. Dated 2 March, it stated that the “regular, persistent and large presence of individuals distributing meals to migrants” in the area around the site of the former camp posed a threat to the peace and security of the area. It banned any “repeated, prolonged gatherings” in the area, in effect making food distribution an offence.
New arrivals, predominantly from the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, are still pouring into Calais, with several charities reporting that they were busy feeding hundreds, and even thousands of people.
Utopia56 is distributing 250 hot meals per night, a sharp increase on last month, most to recipients from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia. Christian Salomé, the president of the Auberge des Migrants charity said no one had precise figures for the number of refugees around Calais, but “people are arriving all the time and not many are getting through [to the UK]”.
At its peak, the population of the camp had reached 10 000, prompting heavily armed police patrolling the territory to protect inhabitants from the ensuing crime. A perilous criminal atmosphere has been recorded around the coastal city, also by tourists visiting from Britain.
Inhabitants of the ‘Jungle’ were resettled in centers throughout France, but many failed to settle in their new designated accommodation, and have returned. Most were either failed asylum seekers or those planning to apply for refugee status in Britain.
Some charities believe the new directive will not address the underlying factors that draw migrants to Calais, and that they are merely designed to mask the problem.
“They are trying to make the refugees invisible, so they make it harder to distribute in town than the countryside. We can’t distribute at day so we have to do it at night. They are trying to push them out of sight,” Renke Meuwese, of Refugee Community Kitchen and Help Refugees, told the Guardian.
“Adults will always find a way to buy food in the shops, but for minors, it will be a real problem – they have no money at all,” Christian Salome, president of the Auberge des Migrants charity, told the Guardian.
Some 85 000 people applied for asylum in France last year, with Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti, and Albania the most frequent origin countries. Nearly two-thirds of the applications were rejected. The overall number of undocumented migrants is likely higher, however.
Government sources claim that the majority of the migrants are happy to claim asylum in France. However, only 22 per cent told the Refugee Rights Data Project they wanted to claim asylum in the country, with the majority saying they preferred Britain.
France’s interior minister, Bruno Le Roux, during a visit to Calais on Wednesday ruled out any new migrant reception centre as it would attract even more migrants, he said.
Paris and Corsica are exempt from the housing scheme for migrants as competition for a place to stay is already intense.