Calais: ‘Jungle’ destruction resumes

After weekend pause, demolition teams in France move in to dismantle tents and makeshift shacks housing refugees.

Security forces - carrying riot gear, tear gas, and pistols - formed a cordon around the area set for demolition [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]
Security forces - carrying riot gear, tear gas, and pistols - formed a cordon around the area set for demolition [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

Calais, France – French demolition teams backed by riot police have resumed destroying the southern part of a refugee camp in Calais known as “the Jungle” after a pause over the weekend.

Dozens of police officers, local officials and demolition workers moved in on Monday morning after a night of rainfall and snow to dismantle tents and shacks housing refugees.

Security forces – carrying riot gear, tear gas, and pistols – formed a cordon around the area set for demolition, as officials from the Calais state authority ordered residents to move out.

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While the majority of the group of mostly Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees complied, several are holding out and refusing to leave.

The demolition resumed despite a silent protest by dozens of residents and volunteers in the camp, several of whom are on hunger strike.

Al Jazeera spoke to Tom Radcliffe, a Buddhist priest from London, who stopped eating on March 2 in solidarity with a group of Iranian refugees who had done the same.

“My neighbour said to me I was driven out of my home by armed men, and now I have come to Europe the same thing is happening again.

“I have had so many conversations where people said, ‘I came to Europe because of the human rights but I came here and found that was only for Europeans.'”

Radcliffe said the group would stop their strike if French authorities halted the demolition, pending the outcome of legal appeals against the demolition order.

Sites targeted in Monday’s clearance included the “Ashram” tent, a refugee and activist-run kitchen that fed hundreds of people a day for free.

Organisers of the kitchen told Al Jazeera that they would be moving their equipment to a smaller space in the northern section of the camp, which is not covered by the current demolition order.

Many refugees and supporters are staging silent hunger strikes to protest the ongoing demolition [Shafik Mandhai/Al Jazeera]

French authorities moved in to destroy the southern section last week after an order was issued by the state authority for Calais in February.

The operation led to sporadic clashes between security forces and refugees trying to protect their dwellings; often tents or makeshift wooden structures, powered by small generators and gas canisters.

During the violence, several tents were set alight, with the fires consuming belongings, clothes and supplies.

On Sunday and on Monday morning, refugees and volunteers tried to avoid similar incidents by moving the dwellings to parts of the camp unaffected by the current round of demolitions and scavenging materials to help build new structures.

Despite being spared from the demolition order, residents of the northern section of the camp said that they fear being forced out shortly, with some considering increasingly desperate measures.

“A friend of mine got to Birmingham after jumping on to the trucks going to England, I’m going to try it this week,” said Mohamed, a Syrian refugee, who did not want his surname to be published for fear of possible legal consequences.

Local authorities are offering accommodation to refugees who agree to abandon their homes inside converted cargo containers in the northern section, but few have taken up the offer.

The area is cut off from the rest of the camp by a metal rail and security checkpoint, and many refugees fear they will relinquish their right to claim asylum in the UK by registering to move there.

French officials say about 800-1,000 people live in the area of the camp affected by the clearance operation, but activists say they have carried out surveys putting the number at more than 3,000.

They say roughly one in 10 are unaccompanied children.

Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @shafikfm 

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Source: Al Jazeera


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