France dismantles Calais migrant camp after surge in crossings to Britain

More than 500 people made the sea crossing from France to Britain last weekend

Migrants sit near a bus and a securite civile vehicle as police supervise the evacuation of a camp on the road to Saint-Omer near Calais, northern France, on June 4, 2021. A large police force was mobilized to proceed with the evacuation of around 600 migrants who had occupied for a few months the so-called 'Magnesia' fallow land near Calais.  / AFP / DENIS CHARLET
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French security forces dismantled a new migrant camp on the outskirts of the northern port of Calais that was home to hundreds of people hoping to travel across the Channel to Britain.

The operation on Friday morning involved hundreds of officers and followed a sharp increase in the number of crossings of the Channel by boat this year.

Last weekend, from Friday to Monday, 568 people made the sea crossing from France to Britain in warm, calm weather, according to the British interior ministry.

So far this year, more than 3,500 people have crossed the Channel by boat, according to British figures, while French authorities stopped many others in patrols on land and at sea.

Senior officials in Calais called for the temporary camp in abandoned industrial buildings to be broken up because of recent violence and fears of a new semi-permanent settlement developing. The mostly young male migrants were offered places in shelters.

"Thank you to the security forces who are mobilised and to the agents who are working on providing shelter," said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Calais has long been a magnet for migrants and refugees who travel there in the hope of reaching Britain, either by stowing away on trains or ferries, or by taking to the water in dinghies and small boats.

A Calais camp known as the Jungle – which was home to about 10,000 people at its height – was demolished in 2016 by French police.

Residents in Calais complain about rubbish and crime with occasional outbreaks of violence in the camps, often between different nationalities or ethnic groups.

Campaign groups and NGOs working in Calais say migrants are left by authorities to live in miserable conditions, without access to basic sanitation or food, and are routinely harassed by security forces.

Francois Guennoc, head of aid group L'Auberge des Migrants, said the dismantling of the camp would make no difference.

"In any case, people move, they go somewhere else. It's an endless journey," he told AFP. "Everyone is turning in circles: refugees, authorities and associations."

He estimated that migrants and refugees in Calais at present number about 1,500, with about 800 in the camp dismantled on Friday.