Aid groups say dismantling French refugee camp won't work

AP News
Posted: Oct 11, 2016 9:10 AM
Aid groups say dismantling French refugee camp won't work

PARIS (AP) — Charities working with refugees and migrants living in a slum-like camp in northern France are objecting to the government's plan to dismantle the site and disperse the occupants.

Although no date has been announced for the closing the refugee camp in Calais known as "The Jungle," the French government has announced it will happen by the end of the year. The first group of migrants is expected to be moved as soon as next week.

Ahead of a meeting Tuesday at France's Interior Ministry, homelessness charity Emmaus asked for the closure to be postponed because "all conditions are not met for an efficient humanitarian operation to take place."

"The government is heading straight into a wall," Emmaus France President Thierry Kuhn said. "We should not bury our heads in the sand; people will come back as long as we won't be able to offer them a solution adapted to their life plan."

A church organization, Secours Catholique, said it also opposes clearing out the area, where up to 10,000 migrants are living in the border refugee camp on the French side of the English Channel.

The government announced plans over the summer to disperse Calais migrants to centers across France, where they would be able to apply for asylum.

"On the other hand, the people who are not entitled to asylum will be brought back," French President Francois Hollande said during a speech at the Council of Europe on Tuesday. "But most of those in Calais are entitled to the right to asylum. Everybody will be offered a solution."

Emmaus said the plan is faulty because a large proportion of migrants in the camp have no interest in staying in France, but hope to cross the English Channel to Britain.

"The government needs to take its time; otherwise, half of the people in the 'jungle' won't find a place in the relocation process," Emmaus official Frederic Amiel told The Associated Press. "They will disperse and return."

The head of Secours Catholique in the Calais area, Vincent de Coninck, is also adamant the port city will remain a transit point to Britain.

"Exiled people will return tomorrow," de Coninck said.

Earlier this month, the head of the government's human rights watchdog, Jacques Toubon, expressed concerns about the planned demolition.

Dismantling the slum "will further weaken vulnerable people's lives and drive them away from the protection they are entitled to by their fundamental rights," Toubon said in a statement.