The French state will no longer let migrants in Calais roam the streets after demolishing their camps, a government envoy said on Tuesday, promising they would “systematically” be offered a place in a refuge.
The announcement comes 23 days after the start of a hunger strike by an elderly Calais priest over the plight of homeless foreigners in the port city, a hub on the migrant route to Britain.
Over the past five years, French authorities have waged a relentless campaign to prevent migrants from setting up camps in Calais, where hundreds of people live in woods, under bridges or on vacant lots while trying to ‘make plans to reach Britain.
The government of President Emmanuel Macron has made no secret of its determination to prevent the emergence of a new “Jungle” as the sprawling slum of Calais knew, which housed up to 10,000 migrants before being demolished in 2016.
But the head of the National Immigration Office, Didier Leschi, said the government would soften its approach.
“We will systematically offer accommodation (to migrants),” he said, adding that the places offered would not be in Calais itself but in the Hauts-de-France region at large.
Leschi was sent to Calais to mediate with Catholic priest Philippe Demeestere, 72, who went on a hunger strike three weeks ago with two young activists to protest the mistreatment of migrants.
In a report released last month, Human Rights Watch accused police of making migrants’ lives squalid by systematically demolishing their tents, regularly confiscating their property, and harassing NGOs trying to provide them with aid.
Leschi said that in the future, migrants would have more time – “around 45 minutes” – to collect their belongings and that there would be “no more surprise deportations”.
The government maintains that the camps attract smugglers, who charge exorbitant fees to help migrants cross to Britain, either in a small boat crossing the Channel at night, or stowed in a truck crossing by ferry or via the Channel Tunnel.
A total of 15,400 people attempted to cross the Channel in the first eight months of this year, a 50% increase over 2020 as a whole, according to French Coast Guard statistics.
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