UK slated over planned anti-refugee wall in Calais

Officials say construction of UK-funded four-metre high, 1km-long wall in the French port will start this month.

Start of the expulsion of a part of the Jungle migrant camp in Calais
The wall will be the latest barrier erected in Europe to stop migrants and refugees [Yoan Valat/EPA]

Politicians, aid groups and activists have condemned Britain’s plan to build a wall in the northern French port of Calais in a bid to stop migrants and refugees from entering the UK.

The four-metre high, 1km-long barrier will be built on a port approach road starting this month, and should be completed by the end of the year, French interior ministry officials said on Wednesday.

“The decision to build a wall in Calais is the latest wrong move in what is the ongoing scandal of the handling of the plight of refugees in northern France,” Jean Lambert, a member of the European parliament and migration spokeswoman for Britain’s Green Party, said on Wednesday.

“The UK government must get its act together,” he said in a statement.

The wall, which will be funded by the British government under an agreement struck with France at a summit in March, will complement a security fence already put up around the port and entrance to the Channel Tunnel, officials said.

“We are going to start building this big new wall very soon. We’ve done the fence, now we are doing a wall,” Robert Goodwill, the British minister of state for immigration, told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday.

Save the Children, a British charity, responded to the plan saying the government should focus on protecting the hundreds of vulnerable children trapped in the dangerous conditions in Calais, “instead of building a wall”.

“The British government has promised to bring vulnerable lone children trapped in Calais to the UK. It’s time now to make that promise a reality,” Steven McIntosh, head of the charity’s government relations, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Plans for the Calais “refugee wall” also caused a backlash on social media, with hundreds of people criticising the project and comparing it with a plan by Donald Trump, the US Republican presidential nominee, to build a wall along the border with Mexico if he is elected. 

Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association, which represents lorry drivers who say they are affected by migrants and refugees attempting to board their vehicles in Calais, also criticised the plan, calling it a “poor use of taxpayers’ money”.

Funds for a wall, which is expected to cost $3m, “would be much better spent on increasing security along the approach roads”, he said.

Amber Rudd, Britain’s home secretary, said  the wall was “not a new initiative”, but what mattered was making sure the French had the right amount of security to prevent “illegals” trying to get to the UK.

She later published a statement on social media marking the first anniversary of Britain’s commitment to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees, saying “We’re on track to meet our commitment to help the most vulnerable Syrian refugees”.

READ MORE: France to dismantle remaining Calais jungle ‘in one go’

The wall will be the latest barrier to go up around Europe as the continent struggles with its biggest refugee influx in decades.

Hungary has built a reinforced fence on its frontier with Serbia, and Austria has announced plans for a massive new barrier along its border with Hungary in a bid to shut down the route through the Balkans taken by migrants and refugees. 

Popular opinion in UK against migrant influx

The wall in Calais was agreed following tens of thousands of attempted Channel crossings last year by migrants, officials said. 

On Monday, French lorry drivers and farmers blocked the main routes in and out of Calais on Monday to call for the closure of the sprawling “Jungle” camp where thousands of refugees and migrants live in makeshift shelters.

An estimated 7,000 people are believed to be living in the camp, but charities say the number might be as high as 10,000 after an influx this summer.

Migrants from the camp sometimes use tree branches to create roadblocks to slow trucks heading for Britain. When the trucks slow down, migrants try to clamber on to trailers and stow themselves away for the journey to the UK. 

Drivers say migrants and people trafficking gangs have also attacked their vehicles with metal bars in an effort to make them stop.

Calais refugees: We won’t give up despite Brexit

Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister, promised during a visit to the Jungle last week to close the camp down “as quickly as possible“.

Refugees and campaign groups have urged the French and British governments to offer a durable solution for those who have fled war and persecution in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies