Thursday, September 24, 2009

French Raze Immigrant Camp

CALAIS (France), Sept 23: French police razed a squalid camp used by illegal immigrants in scrubland near the English Channel port of Calais, using backhoes and buzz saws to clear away the precarious dwellings of a fragile population, mostly Afghan minors, who were led away stunned and sometimes sobbing.

The destruction of the site — known as “the Jungle” — ends the migrants’ dreams of a new life across the Channel in Britain but signifies what France hopes will be a new era in European immigration control. People who lived there tried night after night to sneak across the Channel.

“The law of the jungle cannot last eternally,” said Immigration Minister Eric Besson, who ordered the destruction on Tuesday of what he called “a lawless zone where smugglers rein.”

He blamed a lack of coordination among European nations’ immigration laws for the problem and said he looks forward to tougher border controls “ideally” by the end of the year.

Police scuffled with humanitarian volunteers who have long helped the immigrants, but no injuries were reported.

Up to 800 illegal immigrants camped near the port and in smaller “jungles” around Calais until months ago. However, hundreds began leaving as the expected date to raze the encampment approached.

Officials said 278 people — mainly from Afghanistan and nearly half of them under 18 — were led out of the encampment of homemade tents that was strewn with garbage piles and infested with maladies like scabies.

Most nights, the illegal immigrants tried to dodge elaborate security — including heat sensors, infrared cameras, dogs and border police patrols — to hop onto or under trucks crossing the Channel to Britain via ferries or the Eurotunnel, which takes freight and passenger traffic between France and Britain.

British Home Secretary Alan Johnson said on Tuesday that authorities had halted 28,000 attempts to cross the English Channel illegally in the last year alone. He said he welcomed the “swift and decisive” move by France to close the camp.—AP

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