Residents of “Jungle” camp in France say they are worried after vote to leave EU but their plans have not changed.
French drivers, dock workers and merchants have blocked a major motorway near the port of Calais to demand the closure of the refugee camp known as the “Jungle”, causing long traffic jams and disruption to transport.
Around 350 people took part in the blockade on Monday which involved dozens of lorries, tractors and people on foot blocking the A16 motorway, which connects Calais to Dunkirk and is the main route for freight and passengers heading for Britain through the Channel Tunnel or Calais port.
“We want public order re-established here by a clearing of the northern part of the camp,” Calais’ Mayor Natacha Bouchart said at the protest.
Local authorities urged travellers to avoid the area in hopes of limiting disruption.
French authorities have repeatedly tried to shut down the “Jungle”, a camp of tents and temporary shelters, which they estimate is home to at least 7,000 people. Charities who are helping the occupants say the real figure is as high as 10,000.
Seven migrants have been killed on the road this year as they resort to increasingly desperate attempts to stow themselves away on trucks travelling to Britain.
Some allegedly throw tree branches and other objects on to roadways to slow vehicles down so that they can jump aboard.
Frederic Van Gansbeke, who represents businesses and shop owners in Calais and helped organise the protest, said: “We’ve had no answers, so we’re blocking things up.
“We should not be misunderstood. We have nothing against migrants. We have just a lot of animosity towards the government, which does not make good decisions,” he told the AP news agency.
Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Calais, said the protesters wanted to send a message to the French government that the camp was effecting everything from the security of lorry drivers to the livelihoods of local farmers and small businesses.
Caught “in the middle” are the refugees, who are living in squalid conditions in the camp, and they too want governments to do something about it, Turton said.
“They are saying, ‘We want asylum in either France or the UK, a place of safety’, after fleeing terrible conditions back home”, she said.
“At the end of the day, it’s not working for anybody at the moment. And without a solution, this protest is not going away.”
Amid rising animosity towards migrants and refugees in France and elsewhere in Europe, Bernard Cazeneuve, France’s interior minister, pledged last week to permanently dismantle the Jungle camp “as rapidly as possible”.
On Sunday, an anti-immigrant political party, the Alternative for Germany (AfD), received about 21 percent of votes in a local election in the eastern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region, beating Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party.
The loss of support for Merkel’s party comes a year after the German chancellor made the decision to open the country’s borders to refugees.
Frauke Petry, the head of AfD, said her party’s success in the state election was a result of Merkel’s “catastrophic migration policies”, according to the DPA news agency.