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Aid groups say dismantling French refugee camp won't work

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2016 file photo, migrants use a lavatory at a makeshift camp in Calais, northern France. Charities operating in Calais are opposing the planned dismantling of the border refugee camp on the French side of the English Channel. Although no official date has been set for the closure of the slum-like camp, the French government has announced it will shut it by the end of the year. (AP Photo/Michel Spingler, File)
October 11, 2016 - 7:53 AM

PARIS - Charities working with refugees and migrants living in a slum-like camp in northern France objected Tuesday to the government's plan to dismantle the site and disperse the occupants, saying French authorities should not act in haste.

Although no date has been announced for closing the refugee camp in Calais known as "The Jungle," the French government has announced it will happen by the end of the year. The first group of migrants is expected to be moved as soon as next week.

Homelessness charity Emmaus and other organizations working in the camp met again with Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve Tuesday. Emmaus asked for the closure to be postponed, saying the conditions for an effective and humanitarian relocation have not been met.

"The government is heading straight into a wall," Emmaus France President Thierry Kuhn said ahead of the meeting. "We should not bury our heads in the sand; people will come back as long as we won't be able to offer them a solution adapted to their life plan."

A church organization, Secours Catholique, said it also opposes clearing out the area, where up to 10,000 migrants are living in the border refugee camp on the French side of the English Channel.

The government announced plans over the summer to disperse Calais migrants to centres across France, where they would be able to apply for asylum.

"On the other hand, the people who are not entitled to asylum will be brought back," French President Francois Hollande said during a speech at the Council of Europe on Tuesday. "But most of those in Calais are entitled to the right to asylum. Everybody will be offered a solution."

The charitable groups say the plan is faulty because a large proportion of migrants in the camp have no interest in staying in France, but hope to cross the English Channel to Britain.

"The government needs to take its time; otherwise, half of the people in the 'jungle' won't find a place in the relocation process," Emmaus official Frederic Amiel told The Associated Press. "They will disperse and return."

Christian Salome, the president of the Auberge des Migrants aid group, said he warned Cazeneuve about the high risk of seeing migrants set up new small camps in the immediate aftermath of the destruction.

"He said we must convince as many people as possible to stay in France," Salome said. "But some have good reasons to want to go to the UK and for them, we still have no answers."

Another hot issue is the fate of hundreds of unaccompanied minors currently living in Calais. Under pressure from French authorities, UK Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced that the British government would act with urgency to take in migrant children with relatives in Britain.

Kuhn, the Emmaus France president, wants guarantees that children and teenagers will be accommodated properly, either in France or in Britain. After the meeting with Cazeneuve, he said the minors' situation is another reason to postpone shutting down the camp.

"We understand it's probably complicated, but in the meantime, what should we do? We are waiting for answers and yes, we need to postpone the dismantling of the camp."

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Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.

News from © The Associated Press, 2016
The Associated Press

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