Calais mayor fails to stop construction of ‘Great Wall’ of Calais

Migrants stand up outside their shelters in the northern area of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais, France, September 26, 2016. © Pascal Rossignol
The mayor of Calais, which has become notoriously famous for its ‘Jungle’ migrant camp, has failed in her bid to prevent the construction the so called ‘Great Wall’ of Calais. The wall, sponsored by the UK, aims to stop asylum seekers from entering Britain.

Natacha Bouchart has been advocating against the wall since the announcement of its construction back in September this year. A 1km-long concrete barrier is passing by the infamous ‘Jungle’.

“Calais residents are fed up with seeing barriers and barbed wire everywhere. They feel completely hemmed in,” she told AFP on Monday.

However, her words didn’t impress Pas-De-Calais prefecture, which allowed the work to continue regardless, French media reported.

Britain is paying approximately £2 million ($2.6 million) for the four-meters-high wall built in an attempt to control immigration and improve safety at Calais. The port is a key hub for asylum seekers, refugees and migrants trying to make their way across the English Channel.

The project already sparked controversy as some French politicians, including former French President Nicholas Sarkozy, suggested that Calais migrants must be dealt with in Britain rather than stay in France, as they actually want to get to the UK. At the same time, a British truck drivers’ association called it a waste of money.

Bouchart has been a vocal critic of the camp and repeatedly joined anti-refugee protests. She repeatedly promised to close the notorious camp “as soon as possible.” Bouchart also pledged to use “all legal weapons in my possession” to fight the wall’s construction.

The Calais ‘Jungle’ houses between 5,000 and 10,000 asylum seekers, according to estimates from different human right groups working on the site.

Though French authorities bulldozed parts of the camp back in February, this did not deter thousands of refugees from living in the remaining areas of the camp. While a court in Lille had authorized the demolition of the ‘Jungle’, it told police to spare public facilities such as mosques, restaurants and schools that have sprung up on the site.

Migrants in Calais were also offered bus rides to centers elsewhere around France in an attempt to ease the pressure on the port city, but this did not solve the problem.

The asylum seekers, who are mainly from the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan, have traveled to France in the hope of crossing the English Channel to the UK, often having had their applications rejected elsewhere, or in expectation of better prospects in Britain than in the rest of the EU.

On September 2, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve vowed to gradually dismantle the Jungle in stages. French authorities have repeatedly closed down camps in the Calais area only for them to pop up again elsewhere.

Later in September president François Hollande promised that migrants living in the camp would be dispersed among reception centers all over France “within weeks.”