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Migrant crisis: French court approves evictions from Calais 'Jungle' camp

Inhabitants of the migrant camp known as the "Jungle" near the northern French port of Calais.

Story highlights

  • EU Commissioner of Migration warns migration system could break down
  • A court approves a plan to demolish part of the "Jungle" migrant camp
  • Greece is recalling its ambassador to Austria over the migrant crisis

(CNN)A French court has upheld a decision to demolish the southern half of the "Jungle" migrant camp, near the northern French city of Calais, and relocate the migrants living there.

Thursday's court order calls for police to start evacuating the camp.
    Thousands are to be moved from tents to purpose-built shipping containers, equipped with heaters and electricity, in the northern part of the camp, in a bid to improve conditions at the site, a spokesman for the Pas-de-Calais region said earlier this month.
    However, there isn't expected to be enough space in the northern part of the camp, so some migrants are expected to be moved to other locations with better facilities, authorities have said.
    Thousands of people have been living in grim, unsanitary conditions in the camp, one of Europe's most infamous, where they typically base themselves ahead of attempts to make their way illegally into the United Kingdom.
    Fabienne Buccio, prefect of the Pas-de-Calais region, told reporters Thursday that the eviction of the camp would be conducted peacefully, without the use of force.
    "There was never any talk of bulldozers," she said.
    She said the clearance would take place in cooperation with charity associations involved in supporting the migrants, encouraging them to move voluntarily to the better-equipped facilities.
    "There is already a section [of the camp] that has been vacated, and slowly and safely, we hope that it will take a month, maybe more, to complete," she said.
    French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told a press conference that particular care would be taken to support women and minors.
    Migrant support associations willing to assist the evacuation would gather in the coming hours, he said, adding that 500 beds in reception centers were still available.
    The order from the court in Lille stipulated that schools and other areas of the camp dedicated to social and educational activities would not be affected by the clearance.
    Karima Delli, a French member of the European Parliament, described the site last month as "like an open-air prison."
    "It's a question of dignity, we can't allow this," she told reporters.

    EU Commissioner: Migration system at risk of 'breaking down'

    The Lille court order came amid continuing chaos across Europe caused by the ongoing migrant crisis.
    Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Union's Commissioner of Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, warned that the EU had until a forthcoming summit with Turkey on March 7 to curb migrant numbers or the system could "completely break down."
    "In the next 10 days, we need tangible and clear results on the ground. Otherwise there is a risk that the whole system will completely break down," he told reporters following a meeting in Brussels.
    "Everyone responsible for implementing European solutions, there is no time for uncoordinated actions," he said.

    Troubles along Balkan land route

    Meanwhile on Thursday, Greece said it was recalling its ambassador to Austria as tensions over arrangements along the Balkan land route into Europe escalated.
    Prince Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement Thursday expressing "serious concern" over security measures recently adopted by the police chiefs of Austria and four other European countries along the so-called Balkan route, which appeared to be impacting the human rights of migrants.
    "Latest reports suggest chain deportations are now taking place all the way down the Balkan land route, which includes Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, towards Greece," the statement said.
    "This extraordinary agreement by police chiefs establishes a policy across five states that includes measures which seem to be incompatible with the human rights obligations of the countries concerned, all of which are bound by international human rights and refugee law."
    The move came a week after Austria announced it would let no more than 3,200 new people per day into the country and take only 80 applications for asylum daily.
    And it came a day after Austria held a meeting with Balkan states to address the migration crisis -- a meeting to which Greece, the nation through which the vast majority of migrants are accessing Europe, was not invited.

    EU has yet to agree on a migration plan

    "Unilateral initiatives to resolve the refugee crisis and the violations of international law by EU member states are practices that can undermine the foundations and the process of the European integration," the Greek Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
    The European Union has struggled, generally without success, to create a coordinated plan to respond to a historic wave of migration from the Middle East, northern Africa and central Asia -- a wave that has broken primarily over the cash-strapped country of Greece.

    North-south tensions feed stereotypes

    The International Organization for Migration estimates that just over 1 million people entered the EU last year without the normal documents. And of that million-plus, more than 80% came through Greece.
    The country shares a land border with Turkey. And it has an impossible-to-patrol 8,500 miles of Mediterranean coastline.
    The dispute also follows years of north-south tensions that have strained the EU during the global financial crisis. Many Greeks have come to view northern Europeans as rigid and humorless Teutons who like to make others suffer just to teach them a lesson. And some in Germany and Austria, for example, have come to view the southern Europeans as spendthrifts, lazy and unable to accomplish necessary tasks like collecting their taxes and guarding their borders.
    Greece argues that if the EU as a whole wants to control migration, then Europe as a whole needs to contribute to securing the EU's outer borders.