Chaos, riots as France dismantles Calais migrant camp called the 'Jungle'

8:41 PM Aida Alami 0 Comments

CALAIS, France — Rahmanjan Safy scrambled to salvage anything valuable from the demolished tents and makeshift shelters at this Calais migrant camp Wednesday, even as riot police and bulldozers destroyed the site.

Food, clothing, spoons — he picked up everything he could find.

Safy, 25, from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, has been in France since 2009. He once lived in this camp but now works with an organization that helps the migrants and refugees. Driving his big white truck, he moved these precious commodities to a section of the camp still intact, so people could still use them.
“I once was in the same situation as them,” he said. “I never forgot. I want to help them.”

A judge gave the green light last week for the French government to tear down part of the Calais “Jungle,” as the camp is commonly called, but riots broke out this week amid the resulting chaos.
Police and bulldozers began pushing migrants out of tents and temporary shelters Monday, tearing apart the ad hoc camp that houses an estimated 6,000 people.

Camp residents fought back, starting fires and attacking police with rocks. The situation Wednesday was calmer, if not less tense. Confusion, uncertainty and sorrow still hang over the camp and the people who have no place to go.

Ahmed Salah from Sudan stood amid trash and debris, mourning the loss of his home of seven months. He says he wants to leave but can't.

“I would go anywhere, not just to England," he said about wanting to cross the English Channel to the United Kingdom. "I don’t want to stay in France. They don’t respect their own laws.”

The French government initially announced its plan to dismantle the southern part of the camp — closer to the highway — in early February. Migrants in that section would attempt to jump on trucks crossing through the Chunnel, despite barbed wire set up to protect the road.
The rest of the camp is being left alone — for the moment.

French authorities defended their move to dismantle part of the Calais camp, while also saying France remains open to refugees.

“Our policy is to support those who are in vulnerable situations,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said before the dismantling operation began. “The state will continue its strategy of accompanying migrants toward a humanitarian solution that lives up to the values of our country and our tradition of welcoming those who seek asylum in France.”

But volunteers described how people rushed to collect their few belongings in a short amount of time and tried to salvage parts of their shelters for protection against the cold weather.

“They gave people one hour to assemble their belongings,” said Christian Salomé, founder and head of L’Auberge Des Migrants, the main organization that distributes food and clothes at the Calais camp. "It is sad and inhumane to expel people from their homes in the winter and by destroying their shelters."

Other volunteers call the entire situation shameful.

“It is a political decision not to address this issue,” said Paul Bejannin, 30, a volunteer from Paris. “France has the means to accommodate everyone. And the only state presence we ever see here is the riot police.”

Many fear that with the conflicts intensifying in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the wave of refugees will be even greater this year.

“The only way to solve this is to move the UK to another place that doesn’t face Calais,” said Christophe Ruggia, an award-winning French director who mobilized dozens of artists to protest the country’s resistance to welcoming war refugees. “They are constantly reacting without a long-term vision.”

In downtown Calais, just a few miles from the camp, outrage over the situation has been growing for more than a year. Business owners like Jean Claude Burei, who has a restaurant in town, want the government to find a long-term solution because the bad publicity over the camp keeps tourists away.

“The location of the camp has been a disaster for the city,” he said. “Some of these migrants are escaping war, but others have no reason to be here. ... We also need to expel those who create trouble, like smugglers who take advantage of people’s misery.”

French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet Thursday in Amiens, France, to discuss the ongoing migrant crisis ahead of next week's EU summit on the issue.

Hundreds of British volunteers at the Calais Jungle, like Malcom Mitchel, 69, do what they can.
“The 6,000 here is smaller than a crowd that goes to a (soccer) match,” he said. “There are a lot of people with potential here — doctors, engineers. We should open borders and let everybody in the United Kingdom.”

Amine Khan, 31, from northern Afghanistan, helplessly watched the bulldozers Wednesday and said his "home" will likely be next.

“I have no choice, I don’t know where I will go,” he said. "I will just keep trying to reach England.”

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