CALAIS France (Reuters) - French riot police started evacuating three campsites housing hundreds of immigrants in the northern port town of Calais on Wednesday, days after the anti-immigrant National Front party hammered the ruling Socialists in a European election.
The evictions, denounced by local rights organizations, had been announced by a local government prefect a week earlier - before Sunday’s election drubbing - on the grounds that the makeshift camps posed problems for public health and safety.
Calais has for years attracted floods of immigrants who flee poverty or conflict in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, many of them hoping to cross the narrow sea channel to Britain by ferry or the sub-sea train tunnel.
“This is sad, and it changes nothing,” said Jalal, an Iraqi in his 20s who watched as police moved in.
“I’ll move my tent somewhere else ... but I am staying put (in Calais). What else can I do. I will try again to make the crossing. I did not come here just to give up now.”
Many of the estimated 600-800 immigrants living in the three camps had moved out before the well-publicized evacuation ordered by Denis Robin, prefect for the Pas-de-Calais region.
The operation came on the heels of the European Parliament elections, where the National Front took one in four votes to come first ahead of the mainstream centre-right opposition party and, in third place, the ruling Socialist Party.
Pas-de-Calais lies in north-west France where the FN won 34 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, one of its best tallies and a tripling of its score from the 2009 EU election.
The FN has long campaigned for a dramatic reduction in immigration and opposes the “Schengen” borderless zone at the heart of the 28-member European Union.
Reporting by Pierre Savary; Writing by Brian Love; editing by Mark John