Migrants from Calais refugee camp risk their lives in continuous attempts to cross into UK under the English Channel.
France will dismantle the remaining half of the “Jungle” migrant camp near Calais city “as quickly as possible”, the interior minister has said after visiting the site.
Bernard Cazeneuve said on Friday that the process would be “gradual and controlled … to definitively close the camp” where thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa and Asia have taken shelter, hoping to make their way to Britain.
About 7,000 people live in the remaining northern half of the camp, up from 4,500 in June, according to local authorities, although humanitarian groups put the number closer to 9,000.
Cazeneuve said thousands of new shelters and welcome centres would be created to accommodate migrants in the coming months.
He also said that 200 more armed police would be deployed to the site to prevent near-daily attempts to stow away on lorries heading for the ferry port, bringing the total number of police in Calais to 2,100.
Natacha Bouchart, Calais’ mayor, said she had received assurances after meeting Cazeneuve that the camp would be dismantled in one go, although he had given no timeframe.
Franck Esnee, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) branch working at the camp, agreed that the Jungle should be dismantled but said the proposed alternatives were “insufficient”.
Additional permanent accommodation is needed, he said, adding: “The government needs to encourage initiatives by local mayors who are proposing to take in migrants in their towns.”
The government should also encourage the requisitioning of public buildings to house migrants, he said.
In February and March authorities already dismantled the southern half of the camp.
Since last October, more than 5,500 asylum seekers have left Calais for 161 special accommodation centres set up around France.
Calais residents are due to stage a protest on Monday over the effect the presence of thousands of migrants has had on their livelihoods.
The fate of the camp is already featuring prominently in campaigns for next year’s presidential election.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has called for Britain to take responsibility for the migrants over the Channel.
“The English should examine the requests of all those who want to go to England and they should do it in England,” he told a rally last Saturday in the nearby coastal resort of Le Touquet.
The British government has dismissed as a “complete non-starter” a proposal by Xavier Bertrand, the president of the region including Calais, to allow migrants to lodge British asylum claims on French soil.