France to Evict Refugees in Calais 'Jungle' Camp

Migrants and refugees walk under the rain beside makeshift sheds in the so-called 'Jungle' camp in Calais, on February 24. DENIS CHARLET/Getty Images

Updated | A French judge on Thursday gave the go-ahead to evict thousands of refugees from the southern part of the so-called Jungle camp in Calais, according to the BBC.

On Tuesday, Judge Valérie Quémener, presiding over a tribunal in Lille, had originally delayed the decision to evict of the camp, saying she "had a problem" reconciling the disparity between the migrant population figures submitted by the French authorities and those given by the volunteers working in the camp, said The Guardian.

Calais officials claim that the camp houses 3,700 people while Help Refugees, a charity working in the camp, puts the figure at 5,497.

All agree, however, that the refugees in the camp are living in squalor. The crisis in the Jungle has sent shockwaves through Europe. Amid fears of an influx of migrants trying to use Calais as an entryway into the rest of Europe, Belgium decided on Tuesday to impose border controls with France.

France's announcement on February 11 that it was planning to demolish part of the camp prompted protests in several European cities. In London on Tuesday evening, masked protesters gathered outside the exclusive private members' club Shoreditch House where the French ambassador was due to speak, holding up a large banner that read "Borders are weapons of fear and division" and handing out leaflets saying "Across Europe, the walls are going up again."

Josie Naughton, co-founder of the charity Help Refugees was at the court hearing in Lille on Tuesday. She argues much more needs to be done on the ground. "We didn't ask for the camp to exist forever," she tells Newsweek. "We asked for a delay in destroying it until the residents are given an adequate other option."

"Now that the refugees are going to be evicted, we need to know where the French authorities plan on putting them," she continues. "I spent a lot of time in camp. These are people fleeing conflict. They want to remain in their home country, but they can't."

Currently, there is no official immigration center at the camp and many of the 305 unaccompanied minors living there have a right enshrined in European law, under Dublin III, to be reunited with relatives in the U.K.

"We need to seriously engage in questions of child protection and family reunion before we can empty the camp," says George Gabriel, Lead Organizer at the national community organizing charity, Citizens UK.

Gabriel argues that many children in the camp have a legal right to enter the U.K, but the current system prevents them from coming in. "To our horror, but not surprise, we [at Citizens UK] discovered that despite the fact that Dublin III was brought into effect in early 2013, there hasn't been a single case on record of it working," he says. "Literally zero children have claimed asylum in France and subsequently had that [asylum] request passed to the British authorities." The charity is working to bring forward 70 cases relating to children with the legal right to enter Britain.

Both Help Refugees and Citizens UK were instrumental in writing a letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron, urging the British government to delay the closure of the camp "until all the minors currently residing there are either given child protection within the French system or enabled to reunite with their loved ones in Britain."

Over 100,000 people signed the letter, including prominent figures such as Oscar-winning playwright Tom Stoppard. He recently returned from the Calais, where he spent time touring the camp with actor Jude Law and musician Tom Odell.

"The decision to evict the refugees from the Jungle camp means that they will essentially be homeless—living on the street," he tells Newsweek. "I think that Europe should establish a processing center in Greece so that everybody who arrives can be identified and then sent somewhere by arrangement. It is a tragic mess. It is also an understandable mess. If 5,000 refugees showed up in Blandford [a town in northern Dorset, England]—well, that wouldn't be an ideal situation either."

On Tuesday, the French embassy issued a statement in response to the worsening situation in Calais. "Everyone agrees that life conditions in the 'Jungle' are not ideal," the statement said. "The French authorities are deploying huge efforts to cater for the migrants. Our objective is that everyone should be housed in humane conditions."

This article has been updated to include the court's decision.