French riot police have started evacuating three campsites housing hundreds of immigrants in the northern port town of Calais, days after the anti-immigrant National Front party won over the ruling Socialists in a European election.
Wednesday’s evictions, denounced by local rights organisations, had been announced by a local government prefect a week earlier on the grounds that the makeshift camps posed problems for public health and safety.
“This is not a new issue for the French government. People have been coming to Calais for years now to try to get to the UK,” said Al Jazeera’s Nazanine Moshiri, reporting from the scene.
“The problem is, under the EU law, Dublin Convention, people must seek asylum where they first land. For many of these people, that is Italy. By the time they reach Calais they pass maybe four to five countries. The French government is saying that other countries in Europe should share the burden.”
Calais has for years attracted floods of immigrants who flee poverty or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them hoping to cross the narrow sea channel to Britain by ferry or the sub-sea train tunnel.
“This is sad, and it changes nothing,” said Jalal, an Iraqi in his 20s who watched as police moved in. “I’ll move my tent somewhere else … but I am staying put (in Calais). What else can I do. I will try again to make the crossing. I did not come here just to give up now.”
Many of the estimated 600-800 immigrants living in the three camps had moved out before the well-publicised evacuation ordered by Denis Robin, prefect for the Pas-de-Calais region.
Pas-de-Calais lies in north-west France where the National Front won 34 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, one of its best tallies and a tripling of its score from the 2009 EU election.
The FN has long campaigned for a dramatic reduction in immigration and opposes the “Schengen” borderless zone at the heart of the 28-member European Union.