LILLE, Oct 19 — French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said yesterday the demolition of the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais would take place “within days” after a court rejected a last-ditch bid by charities to block it.
Cazeneuve told parliament that talks with Britain on taking in some of the hundreds of unaccompanied minors living in the camp that want to join relatives across the Channel were “proceeding very smoothly”.
A group of 14 teenagers arrived in Britain on Monday, with dozens more set to follow in the coming days as French authorities prepare to bulldoze the camp in northern France.
Cazeneuve pledged that all remaining migrants at the site, currently occupied by around 5,700 people according to official figures, would be given “dignified” shelter.
Earlier yesterday, a group of French charities failed in their last-ditch legal bid to save the camp, which has been a magnet for migrants trying to reach Britain by stowing away on trucks heading across the Channel from Calais.
A court in the nearby city of Lille rejected their claim that dismantling the Jungle’s maze of shacks and tents was “an attack on the fundamental rights” of the migrants there, mostly Iraqis, Afghans and Sudanese.
The court ruled that the evacuation was intended to end the “inhumane and degrading” conditions they endured, by moving them to shelters around the country.
Under pressure to relieve pressure on Calais, French President Francois Hollande last month vowed to close down the Jungle by the end of the year.
Several sources have told AFP the operation could start next week.
The camp’s demolition will remove a source of embarrassment for the Socialist government and will be welcomed by truck drivers and the port operator.
Crime has also flourished in the makeshift settlement.
A female interpreter was raped while working with a television journalist in the camp on Monday night, investigators said.
The pair, who were working for France 5, were attacked by three knife-wielding Afghans, one of whom forced the woman — who is also of Afghan origin — into having sex, the prosecutor’s office in nearby Boulogne-sur-Mer said.
A search was under way yesterday for the suspects.
At another, smaller camp some 60km from Calais, a migrant died yesterday from his injuries a day after a clash erupted between groups from Ethiopia and Sudan, local authorities said.
While the man’s death was the first in the Norrent-Fontes camp, home to some 150 to 200 people, the Jungle has seen similar fatalities in recent months.
Most of the 33 migrant deaths in the Calais region since January 2015 have been caused by road accidents, with many losing their lives as they attempted to climb onto lorries heading towards Britain under cover of night.
The Jungle has been a constant source of tension between France and Britain.
The pace of transfer of child migrants to Britain picked up this week after Paris demanded that London show more solidarity with minors who make the perilous journey to Europe alone, in the hope of joining relatives across the Channel.
But the French government’s relocation plan still faces challenges at home, with residents of several towns and villages chosen to host migrants protesting at their impending arrival.
A shelter in Forges-les-Bains, about 30km south of Paris, was torched last month to try to thwart the arrival of a group of Afghans.
Two other centres — one in the southeast of the country and one in the west — have been targeted by gunshots this month. — AFP