CALAIS, France (Reuters) - A French judge on Thursday upheld a government plan to partially demolish a shanty town near the port of Calais for migrants trying to reach Britain, an official spokesman said.
“The order is applicable, except for common social areas,” the spokesman for the Pas-de-Calais prefect’s office said. “So it won’t be applicable to places such as schools, a theater and a legal office.”
An official deadline expired on Tuesday for at least 1,000 migrants to leave the southern part of the so-called “jungle” camp, on the outskirts of the northern French port town.
Authorities have said they will use force if necessary to move them to alternative accommodation in a nearby container park and other reception centers.
Their repeated efforts to force their way through the Channel Tunnel or to stow away aboard trucks have disrupted traffic across the vital link between France and Britain, caused tension with the local population and forced French police to maintain a large deployment in the area.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the evacuation would be gradual and that there were sufficient places for all either in the region or elsewhere in France.
“Carrying out a brutal eviction in the south part of Calais with bulldozers was never envisaged,” he said on Thursday.
Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said on BFM TV she was relieved by the decision by the administrative court in the regional capital, Lille.
“We will be vigilant about what is going to happen in the coming hours, and extremely vigilant about what happens in the coming days,” Bouchart said.
Belgium stepped up checks at its nearby border on Wednesday to prevent “jungle” residents entering the country to try to reach Britain from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
Cazeneuve criticized the Belgian move as “odd”, saying it had not been notified in advance and he did not think moving migrants out of the squalid camp would prompt many to move north along the Channel coast to Belgian ports.
The court did not immediately publish details of the decision by Judge Valerie Quemener, who was responding to an appeal by some 250 residents and nine charity groups for an injunction suspending the evacuation.
Maya Konforti, who works with local association Auberge des Migrants, told Reuters the charities would file an appeal with France’s top administrative court.
Altogether some 4,000 people are believed to live in the “jungle”, down from about 6,000 in September. The authorities would like to see this number fall to around 2,000.
“This is bad news but nobody is moving,” Aziz, 42, who fled Pakistan, said after the decision of the court was announced. He and some friends run a small shopping booth that will have to be dismantled.
Humanitarian groups say forced evictions would breach the migrants’ fundamental rights and worsen the plight of some 350 to 400 minors in the camp, some of them unaccompanied.
NGOs estimate the southern part of the “jungle” earmarked for demolition has become home to some 3,400 migrants, more than triple the official figure.
A state-run park of converted shipping containers opened last month and has about 200 free beds out of a total capacity of 1,500, but it lacks toilets and showers.
The government says other various reception centers spread across France can absorb the remaining migrants, with 600 beds immediately available, but many refugees told Reuters this week they would continue to try to reach Britain, where they believe a better life awaits them.
Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Paul Taylor and Dominic Evans