Truckers block Calais to demand closure of refugee camp
French farmers and truckers have converged on northern port city of Calais from the north and south in an effort to push for the closure of a refugee camp in the county.
Some 70 trucks launched the joint operation on Monday to block off main routes in and out of Calais, with at least 200 farmers on their tractors joining them.
The protesters demand the French government to close the camp, where as many as 7,000 refugees are living in the appalling conditions in the hope of crossing the underwater Channel Tunnel to reach Britain.
The vehicles caused a major disruption in the port as they blocked the A16 motorway on a “go slow.”
Richard Burnett, chief executive of the Road Haulage Association (RHA), warned that “if this blockade actually backs the port up, then it will strangle the port and we will see implications back on British soil as well.”
Organizers expected up to 500 people, including businessmen, shopkeepers, police officers, to join the demonstration in a “human chain” in main stadium later in the day.
Truckers say the refugees create road blocks in their bid to stow away aboard the vehicles heading for Britain. Human traffickers reportedly torch vehicles, throw petrol bombs or cut down trees to block roads.
Farmers are also angry at the refugees, saying they cause extensive damage to farms in the area.
“We’ve had no answers, so we’re blocking things up,” said Frederic Van Gansbeke, who represents businesses and shop-owners in Calais.
France has repeatedly tried to shut down the site. Earlier this year, local authorities cleared shelters in parts of the site in an effort to force the refugees to leave the camp. They forcibly evicted thousands of people from the place using tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon.
The camp is known as “Jungle” due to the appalling living conditions of asylum seekers.
Volunteers in the Calais camp have spoken out about the lack of procedure in reporting serious cases of sexual abuse. They say the French government’s refusal to classify the camp as a humanitarian crisis is causing major child protection issues.
Aid agencies have largely been absent from the Calais camp, leaving volunteers to fill their place.
Aid workers have claimed that teenage boys are being raped in the Calais Jungle. There are also concerns about the risks of abuse facing thousands of displaced children across the continent.
In January, a senior representative of Europol estimated that 10,000 unaccompanied children had gone missing within Europe.