Skip to main content

Camps dismantled after French police standoff with migrants in Calais

By Laura Smith-Spark, Stephanie Halasz and Claudia Rebaza, CNN
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Camps appear dismantled, but about 50 to 60 migrants remain at one
  • Police are trying to shift migrants from makeshift camps near Calais
  • The migrants don't want to leave, won't take steps to tackle a scabies outbreak, authorities say
  • Calais is a magnet for migrants seeking to reach Britain or claim asylum in France

(CNN) -- Police in northern France moved in Wednesday on makeshift migrant camps near the port of Calais, prompting a standoff with the defiant residents -- many of whom have fled conflicts in Syria, Sudan and Eritrea.

By late afternoon, a CNN producer observed that the migrants' tents had all been destroyed. One activist told CNN police were responsible. About a dozen police officers remained, along with 50 to 60 migrants who didn't know where to go.

A local prefect reportedly told the migrants they can stay at the camp until Thursday. But Thursday is Ascension Day, a public holiday, so it's not clear if the migrants will be cleared out before Friday.

Hundreds of migrants had gathered in the ramshackle camps, some seeking to claim asylum in France and others hoping to find a way to reach British soil.

Mattheu Adt of international humanitarian organization Medecins du Monde, told CNN from one of the camps that police had asked the migrants to move to an undisclosed location, but that the migrants were refusing. Authorities also asked the migrants to shower and decontaminate their clothes, amid concern over an outbreak of the contagious skin condition, scabies, he said.

Boat carrying migrants sinks off Libya
Video shows naked migrants being hosed

Migrants refused to do that, Adt said, because of concerns their tattered tents would be gone when they returned.

"They fear they will be arrested at the showers," said C├ęcile Bossy, an activist with Medecins du Monde.

She said migrants were given scabies medication Tuesday night but didn't understand what it was for.

Adt said the makeshift camp where he is located housed about 600 people, roughly half of them Syrian, and between 200 and 300 Eritrean and Sudanese.

A spokesman for the charity Secours Catholique in Calais confirmed that police had arrived at about 6:30 a.m. local time at a camp and asked the migrants there to board buses to go to "decontamination" areas.

Many of the migrants refused, he said.

Earlier, police destroyed another camp -- which housed about 300 people -- with bulldozers, he said. The migrants have been involved in discussions with authorities but don't know where to go, he said.

Official: Dismantling under way

An official in Calais told CNN that authorities planned to dismantle the migrants' makeshift camps by the end of Thursday.

Roughly 550 migrants lived in those camps, said Georges Bos, the associate chief of staff of the Pas-de-Calais prefecture -- the local branch of the French government.

"By tonight there will be no possibility left to go to these camps," he said.

Bos said authorities had offered to take the migrants by bus to places where they could shower, adding that dismantling the camps was necessary to prevent further spread of scabies.

He said that the prefect of the Pas-de-Calais region had told migrants their immigration status would not be checked and that no arrests would be made.

It's not the first time French authorities have sought to move on the migrants who congregate in the area around Calais, many hoping to smuggle themselves into Britain inside freight trucks going across the English Channel. A camp in Sangatte was dismantled in 2002 and another known as the Jungle was broken up in 2009.

But after each clearance effort, new makeshift camps spring up.

'Deafening silence'

Medecins du Monde is one of a number of humanitarian and rights groups that signed an open letter to French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday voicing concern over the plight of the migrants.

"The situation in Calais is worsening in a deafening silence," it said. "About 700 foreigners, for the most part of Syrian, Afghan and Eritrean origin, fleeing conflicts, violence and persecution, are installed in the town."

About 550 of those migrants are living in makeshift camps, the letter said, having claimed asylum in France or waiting to attempt the crossing to Britain. "They live in catastrophic sanitary conditions which have encouraged the development of a scabies epidemic."

The groups were "stunned" last week to learn that authorities planned to clear the camps and tackle the scabies outbreak on Wednesday, the letter said -- without coming up with any alternative place of shelter for the large majority of people concerned.

"We can anticipate the effects of this expulsion ... inappropriate medical care, people wandering on the streets of Calais, daily police checks, violence, despair and the taking of growing risks to attempt a passage to the United Kingdom, which, since the start of the year, have already caused the deaths of several exiles," it said.

The groups urge the French government to come up with a plan to tackle the sanitary situation in the camps while living up to its responsibility to protect the migrants on its soil.

The letter was also sent to the French interior minister and the minister for health and social affairs.

Would-be immigrants storm Spanish enclave on Moroccan coast

Italy's Navy rescues 6,000 migrants in just four days

The deadliest trek: Dying in the desert

CNN's Stephanie Halasz and journalist Bastien Inzaurralde contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT