French Immigration Minister Éric Besson has promised that a ragtag migrant camp in Calais known as the Jungle will be shut down by the end of the year. The squatter camp—which is becoming an international embarrassment for France—is home to around 700 men desperately searching for a way across the English Channel to Britain. “We can’t let it be said that smugglers and human traffickers are above the law,” Besson said last week. “The law of the jungle will no longer rule here.”
Local businessmen complained that the migrants, who pitched their homemade tents on a sandy piece of woodland near an industrial area, have become a threat to local workers. “They’ve become a lot more aggressive,” said Dominique Vanneste, a chemical plant executive, who talked of staff being attacked, as well as “the use of iron bars.”
The encampment is about 500 m from a staging lot for trucks crossing the Channel on ferries. Migrants pay up to $3,000 to guides who promise to hide them on trucks bound for Britain or bribe drivers to carry them, explains Sylvie Copyans of Association Salam, a local charity that provides the squatters with food and care. Given the money involved, the migrants—largely from Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran—are often professionals, and many speak English, so they believe it will be easier to find work in Britain than in France.
But increased security has meant that some now wait months, rather than days, to cross the Channel. And many are getting caught. In the first three months of 2009, more than 1,000 migrants were seized inside the port of Calais itself, double the previous year. Adding to their woes, France is stepping up expulsion efforts, with nearly 30,000 foreigners expelled in 2008 for lacking visas.
Still many, including Calais’ mayor, are doubtful that simply closing the camp will accomplish anything. In 2002, President Nicolas Sarkozy, then interior minister, shut a big migrant camp in nearby Sangatte. The result? The migrants simply relocated to Calais, where they established the Jungle.