Migrants around Calais
Since 1999, thousands of migrants and refugees (mostly from Africa and Asia) have gathered around the French port city of Calais, seeking to enter the United Kingdom by crossing the Channel Tunnel or by boarding lorries heading for ferries that cross the English Channel. This issue has affected the British and French governments, the Eurotunnel and P&O Ferries companies, and lorry drivers heading for the UK and their companies.
Sangatte migrants camp (1999–2002)
In the late 1990s growing numbers of migrants/refugees, including women and children, were found sleeping out in the streets of Calais and surrounding towns, who presumably were hoping to get themselves into Britain, either through the Channel Tunnel under or by P&O Ferries over the English Channel. In 1999, at the request of the French government, the French Red Cross opened a refugee camp in Sangatte in a giant warehouse about 800 m (half a mile) from the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Sangatte was planned to house 600 people, but by 2002 it was crammed with 2,000 people living in squalid conditions.
Eurotunnel said in 2001 that each night they stopped 200 refugees, mostly from Sangatte, who aimed to smuggle themselves into Britain, and called on France to shut the camp. On Christmas Day 2001, a mass of people broke through all security barriers and 500 of them stormed the Channel Tunnel.
The Eurotunnel company had by 2002 spent £6 million (€8 million) on security measures around the 650-hectare (1,600-acre) terminal site, such as fences, razor wire, cameras and 360 security guards patrolling daily.
On 3 December 2002, the French Minister of Home Affairs, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced the advanced definitive closure of the camp at Sangatte on 30 December 2002, in exchange for the promise of the British government to accept 1,000 Kurdish refugees and some 250 Afghans, who would all receive a work permit for three months, which would satisfy 80% of the refugees and migrants lodging in Sangatte at that time. The remaining 300–400 would receive a residence permit in France.
Various ‘jungle’ camps (2002–2014)
Since 2002, migrants in Calais slept in squats, slums and outdoor camps known as “jungles” that were repeatedly raided or bulldozed by police before cropping up elsewhere, and they ate from charity soup kitchens. Migrants caught during an attempt to sneak and hide aboard a lorry would be taken to the police station, get a warning, and freely return to their ‘jungle’. At some date between 2002 and 2009, the UN Refugee Agency set up a permanent office in Calais to offer asylum advice to migrants. In April 2009, the police raided and bulldozed a camp and arrested 190 migrants.
One large ‘jungle’, in the woods around Calais, with tents made out of metal grilles and plastic sheeting and wooden shelters, housing 700–800 mainly Afghan migrants, was an insanitary campsite. It was raided in September 2009, 276 protesting migrants were arrested and put on buses, bulldozers were expected to destroy their shelters later that day. The jungle inhabitants were partly imprisoned at the nearby Centre de Rétention of Coquelles, many more were taken to detention centres all over France before being released and making the journey back to Calais by foot. After the closing of this camp, the French authorities threatened to repatriate "sans-papiers" ("immigrés en situation irrégulière") to Afghanistan.
Rushes on Channel ferries (2014)
By September 2014, some 1,200 to 1,500 migrants, mainly Eritreans, Sudanese, Afghans, Somalians and Syrians, lived in makeshift camps or disused buildings in Calais and made regular attempts to hide in lorries bound to cross the Channel to Britain.
On 4 September, at the P&O Ferry docks of Calais, 100 migrants forced open a gate, climbed over fences and tried to storm onto a ferry to Britain. One ship’s crew used their fire hoses to prevent them from boarding.
By October, the number of migrants at Calais was 1,500. In mid-October, 350 migrants again tried to climb aboard trucks at Calais in an attempt to reach Britain, the riot police (CRS) used tear gas to disperse them.
Jules Ferry day centre and ‘new jungle’ camp (2015-present)
In January 2015, the French government opened the Jules Ferry day centre for migrants at Calais, in a former children’s holiday camp. It was intended to provide overnight accommodation for 50 women and children (but not to men), one hot meal per day and daytime showers and toilets (to everyone including men), and mobile phone charging.
By April 2015, over 1,000 men were sleeping rough on wasteland on the edge of Calais where they were building again an open-air shanty town known as “the new jungle”. Charity workers said that 100 people in that “new jungle” had already claimed asylum in France but still had no accommodation. A camp has also sprung up in Dunkirk, around 40 km from Calais. Most of the migrants are Kurdish Iraqis. 90 percent of the migrants are Kurds.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ten people have died trying to cross the Channel Tunnel since the start of June 2015. One Calais jungle from 2015 has been estimated to have approximately 6,000 inhabitants.
In early June 2015, the police dismantled some smaller encampments in Calais. By mid-June, the city council of Calais estimated 3,000 migrants to be living in encampments. As of November 2015, there were an estimated 6,000 migrants living in the camp. As of October 2016, 'Help Refugees' put the number at 8,143.
Starting on 24 October 2016, the French government planned to evacuate 6,400 migrants from the encampment in 170 buses with the intent of resettling the migrants in different regions of France. On 26 October 2016, French authorities announced that the camp had been cleared of all migrants.
Truck driver attacks
Since the start of the European migrant crisis, truck drivers heading for the UK have been repeatedly threatened and attacked by migrants. In December 2015, 13 trucks were hit with stones, with migrants trying to jump into trucks from motorway overpasses. In March 2016, a truck driver was physically assaulted by migrants, sustaining minor injuries, while his truck was also damaged migrants. In August 2016, a driver was threatened with a chainsaw by migrants wishing to board trucks to the UK. Truck drivers have also violently confronted migrants found stowed away in their trucks, and one Hungarian truck driver filmed how he directed his truck towards a group of migrants that hurled rocks at his truck.
In August 2015, Vincent Cochetel, the director for Europe at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, described the crisis as a "civil emergency". Later that month, Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, said that the United Nations had to intervene in the crisis in order to stop the French government from allowing people to try to enter the UK illegally, and on August 20, Theresa May, then the Home Secretary of the United Kingdom, expressed concern that the crisis could spread to other ports, such as Dunkirk.
International agreement to address the crisis
On August 20, 2015, May arrived in Calais with Bernard Cazeneuve, the French minister of the interior, to confirm a new agreement to address the crisis. The agreement will transport British police officers to Calais, where they will be based in a new control center, that will regularly report to May and Cazeneuve regarding immigration-related criminal activities on both the French and British sides of the Channel.
- Channel Tunnel, § Asylum and immigration
- Demographics of the United Kingdom
- Modern immigration to the United Kingdom
- List of sovereign states and dependent territories by population density
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