17th Mar 2018

Calais camp situation prompts Belgian border controls

  • French authorities want to clear part of the Jungle camp this week (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

Belgium is ramping up controls on its border with France in response to the French authorities' attempts to clear a huge migrant camp near the port of Calais.

Border checks were reintroduced earlier this week, will be enforced fully from Wednesday (24 February) with 250 to 290 policemen and "will last as long as necessary", interior minister Jan Jambon said on Tuesday.

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"We are going to guard the border in strategic places, in places used by smugglers, which the police have detected," he said.

Belgium's decision comes as a giant migrant camp near Calais, about 60 km from the border, could be partly dismantled in the coming days.

"When the camps in France are evacuated, we could face an influx of several thousand people," Jambon said.

"We must avoid any economic impact on the [North Sea] coast and the Zeebrugge port," he added, referring to seaside resorts and a cargo and ferry terminal on Belgium's coast.

French authorities wanted to evacuate part of the Calais camp, known as the Jungle, where at least 3,700 people live, by Tuesday evening.

But an administrative court suspended the decision until the judges decide whether the evacuation would constitute a "violation of human rights". Their ruling is expected on Wednesday or Thursday.

Refugee rights groups argue that expelling migrants from the camp would make them more vulnerable and would leave many children on their own.

According to the France Terre d'Asile NGO, 326 isolated minors live in the camp. One in four is less than 15 and the youngest is thought to be 7.

French prime minister Manuel Valls justified the planned evacuation saying the migrants lived in "terrible conditions".

"We cannot accept that a slum continues to be erected like that at the gates of Calais," he told RTL radio on Tuesday.

In January, after France's highest administrative court summoned the authorities to improve sanitary conditions in the Calais camp, giant heaters were installed on a piece of land nearby.

Meanwhile, water and electricity were installed in another camp near Dunkirk, halfway between Calais and the Belgian border, where around 3,000 people lived in unsanitary conditions.

Migrants coming from Calais to Belgium is not a recent phenomenon. Last summer, EUobserver reported of migrants using the tram going along the Belgian coast from the French border, trying to take small jobs and crossing to the UK.

The degradation of the situation in the Calais and Dunkirk camps prompted the Belgian prime minister Charles Michel to write to Valls in January. "The aim is to get concrete commitments from France on humanitarian but also security aspects," he told MPs at the time.

On Tuesday, as his government announced the establishment of border checks, Michel said he had "no intention of letting legal black holes [zones de non-droit] develop in Belgium".

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