Calais / AFP
French authorities razed parts of the “Jungle” migrant camp for a second day on Tuesday while thousands of refugees were blocked in Greece as Europe strained to contain the flood of desperate people at its borders.
Tensions were high in the northern French port city of Calais as workers continued dismantling the southern half of the notorious camp, which has become a magnet for refugees hoping to reach Britain, and a political hot potato between Paris and London.
Clashes erupted on Monday between riot police and protesting migrants who do not want to be moved to better accommodation, as they claim it will take them farther from their goal of reaching Britain.
About 150 migrants, some armed with iron bars and rocks, attacked cars heading to England before being dispersed by riot police.
French workers broke down the makeshift shelters by hand, as bulldozers stood by, after a court appeal by charities to stop the destruction was rejected last week.
While the “Jungle” has become a cause celebre for activists, the crisis there pales in comparison to the situation boiling over in Greece where more than 7,000 people are stranded. Hundreds of refugees on Monday tried to break through a border fence into Macedonia, but their efforts to move deeper into Europe remained blocked as nations set tight limits on migrant entries.
An overnight downpour left their tents drenched and children coughing miserably as the refugees’ wait dragged on.
With Austria and Balkan states capping the numbers of migrants entering their territory, there has been a swift build-up along the Greece-Macedonia border with Athens warning that the number of people “trapped” could reach up to 70,000 in March.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose own country is a favoured destination of many of the refugees and registered 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, has criticised the migrant cap being imposed.
Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov has warned that once Austria reaches its cap of a maximum 37,500 migrants transiting through this year, the refugee route through the Balkans will have to close.
The UN rights chief criticised a “rising roar of xenophobia” towards migrants.
“To keep building higher walls against the flight of these desperate people is an act of cruelty and a delusion,” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said on Monday.
Meanwhile in France local authorities say some 3,700 people are living in the camp which has been dubbed “The Jungle” by residents fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Authorities say between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction.
But charities say a recent census they conducted counted at least 3,450 people in the southern part alone, including 300 unaccompanied children.
The evicted migrants have been offered heated accommodation in refitted containers set up next door to the camp, but many are reluctant to move there because they lack communal spaces and movement is restricted.They have also been offered places in some 100 reception centres dotted around France.
But the migrants do not want to give up their hopes of Britain, which they try to reach daily by sneaking aboard lorries and ferries crossing the Channel. The demolition of the Jungle comes ahead of talks on Thursday between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Britain has put substantial pressure on France to stem the flow of migrants getting across the Channel, and has funded a huge increase in security measures around the port and tunnel in Calais.