France will gradually dismantle the sprawling “Jungle” migrant camp in the northern port of Calais, the interior minister said ahead of a visit to the site on Friday.
Bernard Cazeneuve told regional paper Nord-Littoral he would press ahead with the closure “with the greatest determination” and that the site would be dismantled “in stages”.
Accommodation for thousands of migrants will be created elsewhere in France in an attempt “to unblock Calais”, Cazeneuve said.
France has made repeated efforts to shut down the camp of tents and temporary shelters, which authorities say is currently home to nearly 7,000 migrants following a surge of new arrivals in recent months.
Charities helping the migrants in the camp say the real figure is as high as 10,000.
The migrants gather in Calais hoping to smuggle themselves aboard lorries crossing the Channel to Britain either through the Channel Tunnel or on ferries.
Earlier this year, authorities cleared shelters in parts of the site in a bid to persuade migrants to move into more permanent accommodation or camps elsewhere on the northern coast.
Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart claimed the camp could soon contain as many as 15,000 migrants if authorities took several months to dismantle it.
“We want to call for this dismantling but not in the way that it has been announced,” said Bouchart, who has often clashed with the government over the “Jungle”.
“If we accept this situation (of a gradual dismantling), then in six months’ time there will be not 9,000 migrants but 15,000.”
Calais residents will stage a protest on Monday over the effect the presence of thousands of migrants has had on their livelihoods.
And crowding at the camp is causing fresh tensions.
Two migrants were seriously hurt on Tuesday in what appears to have been a fight between Sudanese and Afghan residents.
The Jungle’s population also includes large numbers of Somalis, Kurds and Syrians.
Cazeneuve also announced that 200 more armed police would be deployed to the site to prevent near-daily attempts to stow away on lorries heading for the ferry port, bringing the total number of police in Calais to 2,100.
Since last October, more than 5,500 asylum seekers have left Calais for 161 special accommodation centres set up around France.
Political hot potato
Franck Esnee, head of the Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) branch working at the camp, agreed that the Jungle should be dismantled but said the proposed alternatives were “insufficient”.
Additional permanent accommodation is needed, he said, adding: “The government needs to encourage initiatives by local mayors who are proposing to take in migrants in their towns.”
The government should also encourage the requisitioning of public buildings to house migrants, he said.
The fate of the Jungle is already featuring prominently in campaigns for next year’s presidential election.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy has called for Britain -- the country the migrants want to reach -- to take responsibility for the migrants over the Channel.
“The English should examine the requests of all those who want to go to England and they should do it in England,” he told a rally last Saturday in the nearby coastal resort of Le Touquet.
Meanwhile the British government has dismissed as a “complete non-starter” a proposal by Xavier Bertrand, the president of the region including Calais, to allow migrants to lodge British asylum claims on French soil.
After Cazeneuve met British counterpart Amber Rudd in Paris on Tuesday, the ministers presented a united front.
“We are committed to working together to strengthen the security of our shared border (and) to strongly diminish the migratory pressure in Calais,” they said in a joint statement.