Migrants around Calais
Since 1999, hundreds or thousands of migrants from Africa and Asia have gathered around Calais, seeking to enter the United Kingdom. This issue has affected the British and French governments, the Eurotunnel and P&O Ferries companies, and lorry drivers heading for the UK and their companies.
Sangatte migrants camp (1999–2002)
Before 1999, growing numbers of migrants/refugees, including women and children, were found sleeping out in the streets of Calais and surrounding towns, who presumably were hoping to get themselves into Britain, either through the Channel Tunnel under or by P&O Ferries over the English Channel. In 1999, at the request of the French government, the French Red Cross opened the refugee camp in Sangatte in a giant warehouse about 800 m (half a mile) from the entrance to the Channel Tunnel. Sangatte was planned to house 600 people, but by 2002 it was crammed with 2,000 people living in squalid conditions.
Eurotunnel said in 2001 that each night they stopped 200 refugees, mostly from Sangatte, who aimed to smuggle themselves into Britain, and called on France to shut the camp. On Christmas Day 2001, a mass of people broke through all security barriers and 500 of them stormed the Channel Tunnel.
The Eurotunnel company had by 2002 spent £6 million (€8 million) on security measures around the 650-hectare (1,600-acre) terminal site, such as fences, razor wire, cameras and 360 security guards patrolling daily.
On 3 December 2002, the French Minister of Home Affairs, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced the advanced definitive closure of the camp at Sangatte on 30 December 2002, in exchange for the promise of the British government to accept 1,000 Kurdish refugees and some 250 Afghans, who would all receive a work permit for three months, which would satisfy 80% of the refugees and migrants lodging in Sangatte at that time. The remaining 300–400 would receive a residence permit in France.
Various ‘jungle’ camps (2002–2014)
Since 2002, migrants in Calais slept in squats, slums and outdoor camps known as “jungles” that were repeatedly raided or bulldozed by police before cropping up elsewhere, and they ate from charity soup kitchens. Migrants caught during an attempt to sneak and hide aboard a lorry would be taken to the police station, get a warning, and freely return to their ‘jungle’. At some date between 2002 and 2009, the UN Refugee Agency set up a permanent office in Calais to offer asylum advice to migrants. In April 2009, the police raided and bulldozed a camp and arrested 190 migrants.
One large ‘jungle’, in the woods around Calais, with tents made out of metal grilles and plastic sheeting and wooden shelters, housing 700–800 mainly Afghan migrants, was an insanitary campsite. It was raided in September 2009, 276 protesting migrants were arrested and put on buses, bulldozers were expected to destroy their shelters later that day. The jungle inhabitants were partly imprisoned at the nearby Centre de Rétention of Coquelles, many more were taken to detention centres all over France before being released and making the journey back to Calais by foot. After the closing of this camp, the French authorities threatened to repatriate "sans-papiers" ("immigrés en situation irrégulière") to Afghanistan.
In July 2014, the French police once again expelled migrants from a camp in Calais.
Rushes on Channel ferries (2014)
By September 2014, some 1,200 to 1,500 migrants, mainly Eritreans, Sudanese, Afghans, Somalians and Syrians, lived in makeshift camps or disused buildings in Calais and made regular attempts to hide in lorries bound to cross the Channel to Britain.
On 4 September, at the P&O Ferry docks of Calais, 100 migrants forced open a gate, climbed over fences and tried to storm onto a ferry to Britain. One ship’s crew used their fire hoses to prevent them from boarding.
Days later, 250 migrants tried to storm and get into vehicles on a lorry park about to cross to the UK, the police scattered them with tear gas.
On 17 September, 250 migrants, after tearing down fences and cutting wire, rushed lorries queuing to get on board ferries, the police used tear gas and baton charges to chase them away.
After those incidents, the British government promised to contribute up to £12 million (€14 million) to the French to help prevent people from crossing the Channel to Britain illegally.
By October, the number of migrants at Calais was 1,500. In mid-October, 350 migrants again tried to climb aboard trucks at Calais in an attempt to reach Britain, the riot police (CRS) used tear gas to disperse them.
At an unknown date, a Syrian refugee sneaked into the UK on a trailer loaded with new lorry cabs and eventually was granted asylum in the UK.
Jules Ferry day centre and ‘new jungle’ camp (2015)
In January 2015, the French government opened the Jules Ferry day centre for migrants at Calais, in a former children’s holiday camp. It was intended to provide overnight accommodation for 50 women and children (but not to men), one hot meal per day and daytime showers and toilets (to everyone including men), and mobile phone charging.
By April 2015, over 1,000 men were sleeping rough on wasteland on the edge of Calais where they were building again an open-air shanty town known as “the new jungle”. Charity workers said that 100 people in that “new jungle” had already claimed asylum in France but still had no accommodation. A camp has also sprung up in Dunkirk, around 40 km from Calais. Most of the migrants are Kurdish Iraqis.  90 percent of the migrants are Kurds.
In early June 2015, the police dismantled some smaller encampments in Calais. By mid-June, the city council of Calais estimated 3,000 migrants to be living in encampments. As of November 2015, there are an estimated 6,000 migrants living in the jungle.
- Calais migrant crisis
- Channel Tunnel, § Asylum and immigration
- Demographics of the United Kingdom
- Modern immigration to the United Kingdom
- List of sovereign states and dependent territories by population density
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