French Mayor signs decree hindering food distribution to migrants

NTD Staff
By NTD Staff
March 10, 2017Latest

The dismantlement of the “jungle” camp in Calais last year has not kept migrants from returning to the port city in northern France, in hopes of still making it across the Channel.

In small groups or individually, they have trickled back into the French town while Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart has signed a ban on gatherings, which could stop aid groups from distributing meals to migrants and refugees.

A decree published last week said Bouchart believed that handing out meals at the site of the former “jungle” migrant camp was one reason for a rise in ethnic tensions and conflict between rival groups of migrants.

The decree, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said food distribution by charities had led to large numbers of people gathering at the site of the now-closed camp, with fights breaking out and risks posed to the safety of local residents.

It did not expressly ban food distribution, but said it was “necessary to ban all gatherings” at the site and barred people from entering it. The decree said gatherings tended to take place “after the distribution of meals to migrants”.

Emmanuel Agius, deputy to Calais’ mayor said the city could not tolerate the regrouping of migrants in the area because the state has already implemented measures to address their needs, such as the opening of welcoming and orientation centers across the country.

“What we want is for there to be no settlement point, nor squatting obviously, but that goes without saying. No one wishes it and no one would tolerate it. We all agree on this—that there is no settlement point in Calais. And we assume that, and we are sure that, and I mean public services and the minister, we all agree, for once at least, on this subject if I may say, that it’s a way to bring migrants to a fixed point,” Agius said.

For some Calais residents, such as café owner Catherine, the migrants deserve help but not inside their town, saying “we need to tell them (charities) to do that outside of town in order for us to live again because we are suffocated.”

Migrants have been streaming into Calais for much of the last decade, hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain by leaping onto trucks and trains, or even walking through the railway tunnel under the English Channel.

The Caritas France charity in Calais gives out clothes, blankets and hygiene products to migrants in a facility where they had also built shower stalls. A representative said vans bringing migrants to receive aid from them are occasionally stopped and searched, and migrants are taken to the police station where they are questioned and held for hours.

“There’s also a strategy of hindering humanitarian aid, because the campaign strategy of the (local) government is to hold on until the election and make believe they solve the problem by evacuating the slums. So they won’t tolerate another tent to appear in Calais and they are denying the presence of asylum seekers who are coming back,” Vincent de Coninck, the mission head of Caritas France, said.

Several other charities and individual volunteers have slammed the mayor’s decree and are adamantly still distributing food and aid to the migrants.

“I have no space, where (do) I go? I have no space. It’s a big problem. So people, like animals,” a 17-year-old Ethiopian, Ramata, said, adding that they were often being chased by police while they slept outdoors.

A fellow asylum-seeker, 22-year-old Raki, said he still wanted to reach England, to be with his two brothers.

Yolaine, a volunteer for the charity Salam and a mother figure to many young migrants, said the Calais mayor had no right to stop them from feeding other human beings.

“They already don’t have a home, they can’t wash themselves, don’t they have any dignity left? And if we prevent them from eating, what are we going to make of all these youngsters? I think that us, we will continue, always, we won’t give up and we will keep giving food to migrants,” she said.

Police forces are still deployed permanently in the area where the “jungle” camp stood before the temporary shelters were demolished last October.

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