French court delays decision on Calais ‘Jungle’ camp eviction

© Pascal Rossignol
A French court has delayed making a decision on whether migrants can be evicted from the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. The ruling was set to be made at 19:00 GMT, but has now been postponed until Wednesday or Thursday.

The court in the northern city of Lille was expected to come to a decision Tuesday evening on whether to go ahead and demolish the southern half of the camp. However, just hours before the deadline, the court said it was postponing its ruling.

"We will not know today," a source at the court told AFP, adding that a decision was now not expected until Wednesday or Thursday.

The local authorities say the camp presents a sanitary risk and had warned the estimated 1,000 people living there that they would be evicted Tuesday evening. Charities say the actual figure could be in excess of 3,000. A judge who is set to rule on the case visited the site Tuesday to meet those who have taken up refuge at the camp.

Anticipating an eviction, the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said it would be carried out "progressively, by persuasion and with respect for people's dignity,” while the head of the regional administration Fabienne Buccio added that force would not necessarily be used, AP reports.

Any moves to close and demolish the camp have been lamented by charities, who say there are around 3,450 people living in the southern part, which could include as many as 300 unaccompanied children.

"This is about the violation of fundamental migrant rights," lawyer Julie Bonnier told AFP, who is representing 250 migrants and several rights organizations, who have filed a case against the authorities at a court in Lille.

"The proposed solutions do not meet their needs at all. It would be better that they stayed here until other solutions are found," she added.

The targeted area houses a mosque, a restaurant and a legal aid center. It constitutes about seven hectares, or half of the entire Jungle camp.

If evicted, the migrants will be given a week to decide between moving to a €25 million ($28 million) 1,500-place state-built camp, which consists of heated shipping containers with beds and electricity, or moving to the 98 migrant centers elsewhere in the country.

On Sunday, a series of prominent British actors, including Jude Law, took part in a performance at the Jungle camp to draw attention to the plight of those facing eviction.

Law also organized a petition to Prime Minister David Cameron, calling on him to stop the demolition of the camp. The document was signed by over 100 public figures, including Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch, Hollywood actress Helena Bonham Carter and The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson.

“Many of these people are amongst the most vulnerable in the camps as this is where the majority of families and unaccompanied minors currently live. Such an enforced move would again uproot those who have already had to abandon their homes due to war and persecution,” the petition read.

However, local residents in the northern French port told RT that their livelihoods are being damaged by the presence of the migrants, who are looking to travel onward to the United Kingdom.

“The atmosphere is sad, it is oppressive. There is no more entertainment, nothing. People are afraid. They stay at home,” Simone Hericourt said, adding that Calais has ceased to be a tourist attraction because of the mass influx of asylum seekers.

She also pointed out the inability of police to tackle the threat posed by the migrants.

“Police refused to confront them. And I find it unacceptable. Their job is to protect civilians. They get hit by bricks, by iron bars. How many riot police officers were injured since riots like this take place in Calais?” she added, accusing the Calais authorities of surrendering the city to the chaos.

Meanwhile the deputy mayor of Calais has called on the UK to stop being “hypocritical” and realize they have a responsibility when it comes to the migrant crisis affecting the French port.

“It is a situation we have not chosen, that has imposed itself on the city,” Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet said speaking to RT, stressing that Calais is not a destination, but rather a crossing point for people hoping to reach England.

“Whether it’s good or bad to go to England, we know it is not the paradise described to [the migrants] in their original countries by the traffickers. But they still want to go to England. And when we try to explain to them their rights, that they can claim asylum [in France] – for the ones who are entitled to claim asylum – most of them are refusing,” he said.

The French government has argued that migrants must appeal for asylum inside the country if they have a valid case, as opposed to looking for ways to smuggle themselves into the UK, as most in the camp desire.

The Jungle is currently adjacent to the motorway used by trucks en route to Britain, creating a string of violent and dangerous incidents, as gangs of migrants attempt to board passing vehicles. The Channel Tunnel said this week it would invest £4.7million ($6.8 million) building a secure 600m concrete extension, to make it harder to access for migrants, and has demanded £22 million ($31 million) from France in compensation for lost revenues