- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 23, 2009

CALAIS, France | French police razed a squalid camp used by illegal immigrants in scrubland near the English Channel port of Calais on Tuesday, using backhoes and buzz saws to clear away the precarious dwellings of a fragile population, mostly Afghan minors, who were led away stunned and sometimes sobbing.

The destruction of the site - known as “the jungle” - ends the migrants’ dreams of a new life across the Channel in Britain but signifies what France hopes will be a new era in European immigration control. People who lived there tried night after night to sneak across the Channel.

“The law of the jungle cannot last eternally,” said Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who ordered the destruction of what he called “a lawless zone where smugglers reign.”

Police scuffled with humanitarian volunteers who have long helped the immigrants, but no injuries were reported.

Up to 800 illegal immigrants camped near the port and in smaller “jungles” around Calais until months ago. However, hundreds began leaving as the expected date to raze the encampment approached. Officials said 278 people - mainly from Afghanistan and nearly half of them under 18 - were led out of the encampment of homemade tents, which was strewn with garbage piles and infested with maladies such as scabies.

Most nights, the illegal immigrants tried to dodge elaborate security - including heat sensors, infrared cameras, dogs and border police patrols - to hop onto or under trucks crossing the Channel to Britain via ferries or the Eurotunnel, which takes freight and passenger traffic between France and Britain.

British Home Secretary Alan Johnson said Tuesday that authorities had halted 28,000 attempts to cross the English Channel illegally in the past year alone. He said he welcomed the “swift and decisive” move by France to close the camp.

Each immigrant is to be offered a voluntary return, with a stipend, to his country or the possibility of applying for asylum, if candidates meet the profile. Those who reject both offers are to be expelled from France.

Scores of police sealed camp exits about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday and, amid angry denunciations from humanitarian groups present, extracted the immigrants from the crowd one by one, lined them up and led them to buses. Numerous immigrants were seen sobbing or quietly shedding tears. They were later taken away to special centers for processing.

Teams with bulldozers, backhoes and chain saws then moved in, pulling down the tents, made from sticks, logs and plastic, sawing through the logs and bulldozing the debris.

“This operation adds nothing and resolves nothing,” said Vincent Lenoir of the Salam association, which has regularly distributed meals to the immigrants.

No one in Calais forgets the 2002 closing of a Red Cross-run shelter in nearby Sangatte that housed more than 1,000 people who used the temporary home as a springboard for their bids to reach Britain. Sangatte, ordered closed by Nicolas Sarkozy - then interior minister, now France’s president - was replaced by the “jungle.”

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide