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France announces two new shelters for Calais migrants

By AFP - Jul 31,2017 - Last updated at Jul 31,2017

This file photo taken on November 2, 2016, shows members of La Vie Active association (right) and the UNHCR (left) standing near unaccompanied migrant minors from the demolished ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais, waiting to board a bus to be transferred to reception centres around France, in Calais, northern France (AFP photo)

PARIS — France announced on Monday it would open two shelters for migrants sleeping rough around the Port of Calais, relenting to pressure to improve the lot of hundreds of people hiding from police.

The centres will be located in the towns of Troisvaux and Bailleul, situated about 80 kilometres inland from Calais, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

Each will have a capacity of 300, he told reporters, estimating the number of migrants currently in the northern port at between 350 and 400.

His announcement came hours after France's highest administrative court ordered the state to provide running water and sanitation for the migrants, saying that its refusal so far to do so "exposed them to inhuman and degrading treatment".

 The council of state was ruling on an appeal by the interior ministry and the city of Calais against an injunction issued by a court in Lille last month.

In its decision on Monday the council of state upheld the order sought by a group of charities, saying that migrants were developing skin diseases such as scabies and festering wounds as they had no way of washing themselves or their clothes. 

The situation was causing "serious psychological problems", it added, calling the state's failure to address the situation "a serious and clearly illegal blow to a basic right".

Calais' Mayor Natacha Bouchart said she would ignore the order.

"The decision by the council of state is unfair to the people of Calais because it threatens them with the emergence of yet another Jungle," she said, referring to the sprawling migrant camp from which over 6,000 people were evacuated last year.

"In the absence of a national and European policy offering a global solution on controlling immigration, Calais will not implement the injunctions," she declared in a statement.

Collomb too had argued that the provision of services could have a pull effect on migrants who trek across Europe to Calais in the hope of stowing away on a truck crossing the Channel to England.

On Monday, the minister said that the addition of two new shelters to the around 450 already in operation around the country would help speed up the processing of asylum claims from those migrants who wished to stay in France.

 

'Individual excesses' 

 

"We do not want to repeat the bad experiences of the past," he warned, alluding to the squalid Jungle.

He also announced an internal police investigation into claims of excessive force being used by officers against the migrants in Calais.

In a report entitled "Like living in hell" Human Rights Watch last week accused the police of routinely using pepper spray on asylum seekers and migrants.

Collomb said the security forces did not use pepper spray but he did not rule out "excesses by a few individuals".

France's new centrist government has taken an ambivalent line on migration.

During his campaign President Emmanuel Macron was fulsome in his praise of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door policy but his government has taken a tough line with migrants in Calais.

 

Last week, Macron softened the tone somewhat, promising to find temporary shelters for all those on the streets by the end of the year.

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