France promises to end harsh treatment of migrants in Calais

Migrant camps in Calais are regularly raided by police.
Migrant camps in Calais are regularly raided by police. Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP
The French state will no longer leave migrants in Calais wandering the streets after tearing down their camps, a government envoy said on Tuesday, promising they would be "systematically" offered a place in a shelter.

The announcement comes 23 days into a hunger strike by an elderly Calais priest over the plight of homeless foreigners in the port city, a key hub on the migrant trail to Britain.

Over the past five years French authorities have been waging a relentless campaign to prevent migrants setting up camps in Calais, where hundreds of people are living in the woods, under bridges or on wasteland while trying to hatch plans to reach Britain.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has made no secret of its determination to prevent the emergence of a new “Jungle” as the sprawling Calais shantytown that housed up to 10,000 migrants before being demolished in 2016 was known.

But the head of the national immigration office, Didier Leschi, said that the government would soften its approach.

“We will systematically offer (migrants) accommodation”, he said, adding that the places on offer would not be in Calais itself but in the wider Hauts-de-France region.

Leschi was sent to Calais to mediate with 72-year-old Catholic priest Philippe Demeestere, who went on hunger strike three weeks ago along with two young activists to protest the harsh treatment endured by migrants.

In a report last month Human Rights Watch accused police of making migrants’ lives a misery by systematically tearing down their tents, regularly confiscating their belongings and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid.

Leschi said that in future migrants would be given more time – “about 45 minutes” – to gather their possessions and that there would be “no more surprise evictions.”

The government argues that camps attract people smugglers, who command extortionate fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel in the dead of night or stowed away on a truck crossing by ferry or through the Channel Tunnel.

A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a increase of 50 percent over the figure for the whole of 2020, according to French coast guard statistics.

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  1. Migrants in France need to understand that they’ve reached the end of the line. That should mean , apply for asylum or go home.

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