'Jungle' demolition a success
Agence France Presse, October 2, 2009
Calais (AFP) — France's immigration minister flew back to Calais on Friday to say the high-profile bulldozing of a squalid Afghan migrant camp was a success, despite claims its occupants are flocking back.
'We went from between 1,000 and 1,500 people in early June to less than 500 today and without doubt probably close to 300,' Eric Besson told journalists invited onto his trip to the Channel ferry port.
Riot police rounded up scores of mostly Afghan migrants early last week, many of them children, and bulldozed the makeshift camp called the 'jungle' that was used as a base to sneak across the Channel to Britain. Besson was in Calais for that operation.
But since then, judges in the various French towns where the migrants were sent to detention centres have ordered around 100 of them released, and rights groups say many have returned to Calais.
The migrants have often had lengthy and perilous journeys to get as far as Calais, but believe that Britain offers better opportunities for work than France and try to sneak onto trucks or boats heading across the Channel.
Besson made his comments Friday as he watched another camp, populated mostly by Sudanese who had earlier vacated their shacks after being alerted about the minister's visit, being pulled down by workers in protective white suits.
Earlier in the day, a crane demolished two houses squatted by Eritrean migrants, who had been evacuated on Wednesday.
'I don't see the humanity in these camps,' Besson said. 'This is not a case of mass round-ups but the destruction of the tools of people smugglers. The president of the republic (Nicolas Sarkozy) has asked me to increase pressure on these illegal networks.'
Britain, which last year stopped 28,000 migrants trying to cross the 35 kilometres (22 miles) of water that separates it from France, praised the French crackdown last week. But activists denounced it as a media stunt that would drive migrants further underground.
'Anyone with a drop of common sense could predict that this dismantling would do nothing to solve the problem, and that inevitably the migrants would be back,' said Jack Lang, the Socialist lawmaker for the Pas-de-Calais region.