French Protest Over Calais Migrant Camp Blocks Transport Hub
French President François Hollande’s government is struggling to end region’s crisis. PARIS—Truck drivers, farmers and shopkeepers blocked a highway leading into the French port of Calais on Monday, demanding the dismantlement of a sprawling migrant camp and snarling traffic in one of Europe’s busiest transport hubs.
Two convoys of about 40 trucks driving at three miles an hour made their way toward the port of Calais—located on the French side of the English Channel—blocking traffic in and out of the city, police said.
Several hundred people also formed a one-mile human chain near the highway, according to protesters.
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Local frustrations are surging as President François Hollande’s Socialist government strains to find a lasting solution to the migrant crisis in the region.
Despite recent efforts by the French government to empty out the camp, the number of migrants in Calais has more than doubled over the past few months, reaching a record 9,000 migrants in August, according to aid workers.
Tightened security around the port and tunnel in Calais is also pushing migrants to make more desperate attempts to reach the U.K., jumping from bridges onto trucks or hurling tree branches on the highway to slow down traffic.
The camp in Calais, known as the Jungle, opened in the spring of 2015 as authorities sought to group migrants spread across informal settlements around town into a single location to avoid clashes with local far-right groups.
As the influx of refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan to Calais rose, French and British authorities stepped up security. Tall razor-wire fences were erected around the entrance to the Channel tunnel and the port. More than 1,000 police were deployed.
By October 2015, police counted about 6,000 migrants in Calais. To roll back the camp, the French government adopted new measures to persuade migrants to leave Calais and, if necessary, remove them by force. Social workers started patrolling the camp to encourage refugees to apply for asylum, while police arrested migrants caught sneaking onto trucks and sent them to detention centers across the country.
Since 2015, the Interior ministry said it has transferred 7,484 migrants from the Jungle to shelters across the country.
Those efforts helped bring down the number of migrants in Calais to around 3,500 people in January 2016, police said. In February, French authorities started clearing the southern part of the Jungle. But the numbers of migrants in Calais surged as warmer summer weather encouraged migrants to brave the journey to Calais.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who was in Calais on Friday to meet truck drivers and farmers, pledged to dismantle the camp as “quickly as possible.”
“That’s not soon enough,” says David Sagnard, head of a French regional transport federation. “We are the target of perpetual attacks by migrants. It’s unacceptable,” he added.