On Monday, the Guardian reports, French police and migrants clashed as authorities continued to demolish sections of the refugee camp in the port town of Calais known as “the Jungle.” Buildings housing about 200 people were dismantled, and some makeshift shelters caught fire.
Police fired teargas at a crowd of about 150 people and activists throwing stones, and at least three shelters were set alight. A spokeswoman for the British volunteer group Help Refugees said that some of the fires appeared to have been started by the heat of the canisters, while others may have been set by residents in protest.
According to the Guardian, volunteer groups said residents were given only a half-hour’s warning before work crews, guarded by police, came to dismantle the temporary housing. The Jungle is about six miles from the Eurotunnel train station, through which some refugees attempt to walk to England, where they hope to apply for asylum. Most of the housing consists of vinyl camping tents, The Intercept’s Alleen Brown reported last year, though there are some wooden huts.
Although officials carefully timed the eviction in mid-January with the opening of a new fenced-in section of the Jungle, where immaculate rows of heated shipping containers would hold about 1,500 new beds for refugees, there would not be enough space for all of the newly displaced. Families and people forced to move in an earlier eviction had already claimed many of the beds.
The shortage seemed to be according to plan. The local government intended to reduce the camp’s population from approximately 5,000 to 2,000 by convincing some refugees to apply for asylum in France and others to go back to where they came from, and by making life in the Jungle as uncomfortable as politics would allow.
The plan’s next step is already in motion. Last Friday, the local prefect announced that another 1,000 or so asylum seekers would be evicted imminently. This time, they will have approximately a week to clear a southern section of the camp.
The approach is symptomatic of the refugee fatigue that has been spreading throughout Europe. Nearly a year after the influx of migrants to the European Union rapidly accelerated, patience has thinned for a still-growing population of foreigners. The November terrorist attacks in Paris and a wave of sexual assaults linked to refugees on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, have helped fuel a growing intolerance for new asylum seekers. The situation in Calais displays the tipsy politics European countries play as they attempt to avoid blame for the suffering of refugees, even as they work to repel and expel them.
Advocacy groups say that French officials have been encouraging migrants to leave, without also offering anywhere else for them to go. A spokesman for the Calais prefecture denied Monday that a wholesale eviction was underway, however: “There is a reinforced police presence today to allow those officials to enter and talk to people. But this is a gradual process which will take place over several days and weeks. There will be no bulldozers.”
Officials estimate between 800 and 1,000 people living in the main camp at the Jungle, the Guardian reports. An unofficial census carried out by two charities identified 3,455 people, including 445 children. Of those, 305 were unaccompanied. This week a judge who will rule on whether authorities can legally bulldoze part of the camp said she has “a real problem” reconciling the difference between these two numbers.