Charities warn of drowning danger as migrants camp along Paris canal

Tents where migrants live in a makeshift camp are seen on the Quai de Valmy of the canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, May 15, 2018. Picture taken May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Julie Carriat and Clotaire Achi

PARIS (Reuters) – With hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers packed in tents alongside a Paris canal and under a nearby bridge, charities are warning of the risk from drowning and violence if the authorities do not act to tackle makeshift camps.

Two young men – one Afghan and one probably Sudanese – drowned in the canal this month from the camps housing more than 2,400 people by the Canal St Martin, a trendy area known for hipsters having picnics along its banks on sunny days.

France, which has received far fewer asylum seekers over the past years than neighboring Germany, has nevertheless been struggling with tackling new arrivals – for years in what became know as the Calais “jungle”, on the northern coast, and, since that was shut down, increasingly in Paris.

“If this situation continues, there will be other dramas, there will inevitably be deaths. And therefore I call on the public authorities to act, and give shelter to the people who are there,” said Pierre Henry, the director of the France Terre d’Asile charity.

Some bathe in the canal’s unsanitary waters, while the mobile phones and subsidies handed out by authorities to some of the asylum seekers are the target of attacks, with knives used as weapons to obtain them, said charity volunteer Pauline Doyen.

Pauline, a volunteer speaks to migrants near the truck where humanitarian association France Terre d'Asile works on the Quai de Jemmapes of the canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, May 15, 2018. Picture taken May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

Pauline, a volunteer speaks to migrants near the truck where humanitarian association France Terre d’Asile works on the Quai de Jemmapes of the canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France, May 15, 2018. Picture taken May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“There is too much crazy people. I see, look, this is my face. I fight yesterday here,” a 24-year-old Pakistani man, who gave his name as Suleiman, said in broken English .

“I am new,” Suleiman said, showing a trace of blow on his cheek which he says he sustained trying to stop people stealing his belongings. “People take my phone, I have 300 euros, it is taken.”

The Paris municipality and government disagree on how to tackle the situation and blame each other for it, drawing criticism from charities.

In a letter to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe last week, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo spoke of the “chaos (that) now characterizes the campments”, asking the government for action.

An Interior ministry source described the relations between the municipality and the government as “complex” and said Hidalgo was blocking their plans to evacuate the camp. In her letter Hidalgo confirmed she thought the government’s evacuation plan was not the right solution.

(Additional reporting by Feyi Adegbite; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Alison Williams)

Charities slam Calais ban that could halt food aid for migrants

An aid worker provides assistance near a group of migrants claiming to be minors who use blankets to protect themselves from the cold as they prepare to spend the night after the dismantlement of the "Jungle" camp in Calais, France, October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

By Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – Charities expressed outrage on Friday as the mayor of French port Calais, which has symbolized Europe’s refugee crisis, signed a ban on gatherings that could stop aid groups distributing meals to migrants and refugees.

A decree published on Thursday said the Calais authority believed that handing out meals at the site of the former “jungle” migrant camp was one reason for a rise in ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of migrants.

The decree, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said food distribution by charities had led to large numbers of people gathering at the site of the now-closed camp, with fights breaking out and risks posed to the safety of local residents.

It did not expressly ban food distribution, but said it was “necessary to ban all gatherings” at the site and banned people from entering it. The decree said gatherings tended to take place “after the distribution of meals to migrants”.

Migrants have been streaming into Calais for much of the last decade, hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain by leaping onto trucks and trains, or even walking through the railway tunnel under the English Channel.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, a member of conservative party The Republicans who signed the decree, defended her decision on the grounds of public safety and the damage to the local Calais economy caused by the refugee problem.

In a statement, Bouchart said it was also up to the national government to deal with the problem, and that she had always sought to act with “humanity” towards the refugees.

But human rights groups criticized the move, with some saying they would still hand out food to migrants and refugees.

“You’re talking about young people and children. You just can’t deprive them of food,” said Gael Manzi, who works for local aid association Utopia 56.

Manzi said Utopia 56 would continue to distribute food, but at a new site elsewhere in Calais.

Last month, non-government associations said hundreds of migrant children had been returning to Calais, despite the dismantling of the “jungle” camp late last year.

The influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa is a key issue in France’s upcoming presidential election, with many voters concerned about competition for scarce jobs, security, and the risk of further terror attacks.

Police forces are still deployed permanently in the area where the “jungle” camp stood.

(Reporting by Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Andrew Callus and Catherine Evans)

Police swoop on Paris migrant camp after Calais Jungle clearout

Migrants stand near their tents at a makeshift migrant camp on a street near the metro stations of Jaures and Stalingrad in Paris.

By Johnny Cotton and Emmanuel Jarry

PARIS (Reuters) – French riot police swooped on an illegal migrant camp in northeastern Paris just after dawn on Monday, sparking a brief standoff at a site where numbers have soared since the closure of the Jungle camp in the northern port city of Calais.

The operation, largely consisting of identity checks on some of an estimated 2,500 migrants sleeping rough around a canal and urban train bridge near Paris’s Stalingrad metro station, came as pressure mounts on the government to clear and shut the camp.

Tension has risen in tandem with speculation that police will move in to evacuate and close the camp definitively in the coming days, as the Paris authorities are demanding.

A Reuters journalist at the scene said a digger moved in to clear a small part of the camp, a tentacular sprawl of tents, mattresses, blankets and the meager belongings of migrants who come in large part from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.

Migrants shouted at police in riot gear as the digger swept debris and rubbish away in a small section of the camp, which was otherwise left largely intact. One policeman sprayed a migrant with tear gas.

After a couple of hours, police allowed migrants to move back in after a tidy-up by municipal cleaning workers.

In a letter sent to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo requested that the camp be shut rapidly on humanitarian and sanitary grounds.

City Hall officials say the numbers living and sleeping rough in the area have swollen by about a third since the evacuation last week of the Jungle camp in Calais, where more than 6,000 people were living, most of them in the hope of making it across the short Channel sea crossing to Britain.

The Calais camp, a vast shanty town on sandy scrubland where demolition workers were due to finish their destruction job by the end of Monday, came to symbolize Europe’s fraught efforts to cope with a record influx of migrants fleeing strife and poverty in countries from Afghanistan to Sudan.

French President Francois Hollande urged Britain at the weekend to shoulder its part of the responsibility for 1,500 minors who have been housed temporarily in container boxes in Calais following the clearout. The rest of the 6,000-plus inhabitants of the Jungle have been dispatched to lodgings across France, pending examination of their asylum cases.

“It’s up to Britain now to fully live up to its duty, that’s not finished yet,” said Pascal Brice, the head of France’s refugee agency, Ofpra.

(Writing by Brian Love; editing by Mark Heinrich)

First unaccompanied children from Calais ‘Jungle’ reach Britain

UK Border Force staff escort the first group of unaccompanied minors from the Jungle migrant camp in Calais to be brought to Britain as they arrive at an immigration centre in Croydon, south London,

LONDON (Reuters) – A first busload of children arrived in Britain on Monday from the “Jungle” camp near the French port of Calais as the British government started to act on its commitment to take in unaccompanied migrant children before the camp is destroyed.

The fate of children staying in the Jungle, a squalid camp where up to 10,000 people fleeing war or poverty in the Middle East and Africa have converged seeking ways to cross to Britain, has been a political problem for the British government.

Religious leaders, refugee rights campaign groups and opposition parties have accused the government of dragging its heels on helping to move unaccompanied children out of the camp, which France has said it will soon demolish.

The French and British interior ministers, Bernard Cazeneuve and Amber Rudd, agreed in talks on Oct. 10 to speed up the process of moving children eligible to go to Britain out of the Jungle.

Fourteen children, the first whose cases have been processed, arrived by bus in Croydon, south London, to be reunited with relatives already living in Britain. Faith leaders and aid workers were on hand to welcome and assist them.

“The camp at Calais is a desperate, dangerous, horrible place, nowhere any adult should be, let alone any child,” said Bishop of Croydon Jonathan Clark.

“So this is a really good day to celebrate as some of those children begin to make their journeys to be reunited with their families,” he told reporters outside a Croydon church.

It is not known exactly how many children will be brought to Britain. The British interior ministry has said 80 children had been accepted for transfer from France so far this year under EU family reunification rules known as the Dublin regulation.

The Red Cross estimates that 1,000 unaccompanied children are living in the Jungle, of whom 178 have been identified as having family ties to Britain. It has said some of these children have been held back by bureaucracy.

Separately from the Dublin process, Britain has sent out a team to work with the French authorities to identify children who can be brought to Britain under the terms of a change to British immigration law known as the Dubs amendment.

It states that Britain will take in “vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees” who arrived in the EU before March 20, even if they do not have relatives in Britain.

March 20 was date of an EU-Turkey deal aimed at limiting the flow of migrants into the bloc, which reached crisis levels in 2015. The Dubs amendment is named after the politician who proposed it, Alf Dubs, who came to Britain as a Jewish child refugee fleeing Nazi persecution.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Stephen Addison)

Britain to take in unaccompanied migrant children from camps

A young migrant pulls a trolley in a muddy field at a camp of makeshift shelters for migrants and asylum-seekers from Iraq, Kurdistan, Iran and Syria, called the Grande Synthe jungle, near Calais, France,

LONDON/PARIS (Reuters) – Britain will honor a commitment to take in migrant children from the “Jungle” camp in the French port city of Calais, interior minister Amber Rudd said on Monday, urging France to help her speed the process.

Rudd said progress had been made at a meeting with French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to help resettle unaccompanied children in the camp to Britain or to a safe children’s center while any necessary paperwork is processed.

Britain has been accused of dragging its heels on helping move the around 1,000 unaccompanied children in the Jungle, an overcrowded camp which is home to nearly 10,000 people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.

Paris has said the camp will be demolished soon.

“The UK government has made clear its commitment to resettle vulnerable children under the Immigration Act and ensure that those with links to the UK are brought here using the Dublin regulation,” Rudd told parliament.

Under EU rules known as the Dublin regulation, asylum seekers must make an initial claim in the first country they reach, but can have their application examined in another if, for example, they have relatives living there.

“We have made good progress today but there is much more work to do,” Rudd said, referring to the meeting with Cazeneuve where the two sides agreed to speed up the process of moving the children before the camp is demolished.

Rudd said more than 80 unaccompanied children have been accepted for transfer under the Dublin regulation since the beginning of this year and urged France to come up with a list of those who are also eligible to move under EU rules.

Earlier, Cazeneuve said he would press the case for Britain to honor its commitment to take in the children after the Red Cross charity said many had been held back by bureaucracy.

“Of the estimated 1,000 unaccompanied children who are currently living in the Calais Jungle, 178 have been identified as having family ties to the UK. This gives them the right to claim asylum in the same country,” the Red Cross said.

Calais is one of several places in western Europe faced with huge build-ups of migrants.

More than 11,000 were rescued in just 48 hours last week off the coast of Libya as they sought to cross the sea to Europe.

(Reporting by Brian Love and Michel Rose in Paris, Elizabeth Piper in London,; Editing by Stephen Addison)

France confirms Calais migrant camp shutdown

Migrants pass by a road sign as they leave the northern area of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais, France,

By Elizabeth Pineau

CALAIS, France (Reuters) – President Francois Hollande said on Monday that France will completely shut down “the Jungle” migrant camp in Calais by year-end and called on London to help deal with the plight of thousands of people whose dream is ultimately to get to Britain.

“The situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it,” Hollande said on a visit to the northern port city where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan live in squalor.

“We must dismantle the camp completely and definitively,” he said.

France plans to relocate the migrants in small groups around the country but right-wing opponents of the Socialist leader are raising the heat ahead of the election in April, accusing him of mismanaging a problem that is ultimately a British one.

The migrants want to enter Britain, but the government in London argues that migrants seeking asylum need to do so under European Union law in the country where they enter.

Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britain’s vote this year to leave the EU. It is also likely to be major factor in France’s presidential election.

If France stopped trying to prevent migrants from entering Britain, Britain would ultimately find itself obliged to deal with the matter when asylum-seekers land on its shores a short distance by ferry or subsea train from France’s Calais coast.

Hollande bluntly reminded Britain of that, saying that he expected London to fully honor agreements on managing a flow of migrants.

“I also want to restate my determination that the British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is undertaking and that they continue to do that in the future,” Hollande said.

London and Paris have struck agreements on issues such as the recently begun construction of a giant wall on the approach road to Calais port in an attempt to try to stop migrants who attempt daily to board cargo trucks bound for Britain.

“What happens in the Jungle is ultimately a matter for the French authorities, what they choose to do with it,” a British government spokesman said.

“Our position is very clear: we remain committed to protecting the shared border that we have in Calais,” the spokesman said. He added: “The work that we do with France to maintain the security of that border goes on and will go on, irrespective of what happens to the Jungle camp.”

(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Clashes break out as France begins clearing Calais migrant camp

CALAIS, France (Reuters) – Clashes with police broke out on Monday as work got underway to clear part of the shanty town outside Calais in northern France where migrants are trying to reach Britain.

Police fired tear gas around midday, about 150-200 migrants and activists threw stones, and three makeshift shelters were set ablaze, according to a Reuters photographer at the site.

Earlier, one person was arrested for trying to stop a group of about 20 workers under heavy police protection from clearing the site, where about 3,000 people are staying.

“The migrants are just going to run and hide in the woods and the police are going to have to go after them,” said activist Francois Guennoc of the Auberge des Migrants migrant support group.

Regional Prefect Fabienne Buccio had said the police presence was needed because “extremists” could try to intimidate migrants into turning down housing offers or buses to reception centers.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said last week that authorities would work with humanitarian organizations to relocate the migrants to a nearby park of converted shipping containers or other reception centers around France.

On Thursday, a judge upheld a government order to evict migrants living in the southern part of the camp, although a few makeshift buildings of social importance such as a school and a theater are to remain untouched.

Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty, from Afghanistan to Syria, have converged on the northern port over the past year.

Many attempt to climb illegally onto trains using the Channel Tunnel or into lorries heading to Britain where they hope to settle. Their presence has led to tension with some of the local population and to a permanent police deployment.

Earlier on Monday at another European migrant crisis flashpoint, Macedonian police also fired tear gas to disperse hundreds who stormed the border from Greece. The migrants had torn down a gate as frustrations boiled over at restrictions imposed on people moving through the Balkans.

(Reporting by Pascal Rossignol and Pierre Savary; Writing by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Ralph Boulton)