Hollande sharpens approach to "unacceptable" migrant camps in Calais

Makeshift migrant camps that are housing thousands of people near the northern French port city of Calais will be "definitively" dismantled, President Francois Hollande vowed Monday during a visit to the region.

"This situation is unacceptable," Hollande said during an address to local leaders, including representatives from the police, business and aid organizations.

He called the camps a "humanitarian emergency" while praising the efforts of security forces charged with monitoring routes to Britain and maintaining public order.

Camps have sprung up around the area near Calais for years due to its proximity to the English Channel. Many migrants, often from countries in eastern Africa or the Middle East, try to cross over into Britain via the train tunnel or sequestered in the back of lorries.

But France and Britain, who jointly manage a "shared border" in Calais, have increased security measures over the past year, making crossings more difficult and dangerous.

Hollande said there were 7,000 migrants currently in the informal encampments often called the "Jungle," while aid organizations put the figure at 10,000.

Earlier this year, authorities built a 1,500-capacity accommodation centre near the makeshift camps and encouraged people to apply for asylum in France.

Hollande sharpened this strategy during his address Monday, pledging assistance to those wishing to apply for asylum and less leniency for so-called "irregular migrants," referring to those who do not qualify for asylum or other government-backed immigration schemes.

He outlined a system of accommodation centres hosting 40-50 people, spread throughout France, to welcome asylum seekers for 3-4 months and help with application procedures.

"These structures are managed by associations, financed by the state, and installed in existing sites," Hollande said. "They are not, as some have said, mini-encampments."

He added that 5,800 people have already been relocated in over the year in more than 160 centres around France. News agency AFP reported that Hollande planned to pursue full dismantling of the makeshift camps nears Calais before the end of the year.

Hollande's visit did not include a stopover in the camps themselves.

The French president's visit comes five days after his conservative predecessor - and possible future election opponent - Nicolas Sarkozy, visited Calais and also pledged to close the camp.

Sarkozy, who is favoured to become the conservative candidate for the presidential elections in 2017, has come down hard against the current administration's migration policies.

He promised to close the "Jungle" before the end of summer 2017.

Far right prospective candidate Marine Le Pen has also expressed criticism about the government's relocation scheme.

Last update: Mon, 26/09/2016 - 16:16

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