Calais residents protest over ‘economic catastrophe’ of camp

Demonstrators claim ‘The Jungle’ has caused business to decline by 30% to 40%

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart (centre) and residents of Calais protest to urge the government to help their failing businesses and restore the image of the town affected by the migrant crisis. Photograph:  Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart (centre) and residents of Calais protest to urge the government to help their failing businesses and restore the image of the town affected by the migrant crisis. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

 

Several hundred residents of Calais demonstrated near the ministries of finance and tourism and the Élysée Palace yesterday to plead for relief from what they called the “economic catastrophe” that has struck the channel town of 72,000.

“We are neither for nor against the migrants,” said Antoine Ravisse, the president of the “great gathering of the Calais region” association.

The demonstration took place as labourers began a second week of demolitions in the migrant camp known as The Jungle, 5km from central Calais.

The protestors travelled in coaches and wore white T-shirts with red hearts emblazoned with the words “I love Calais.”  Most were shopkeepers.  They claim business has declined by between 30 and 40 per cent because tourists no longer stop in Calais.

“Calais is the closest point to Great Britain and there’s no longer a single English person in the streets,” Mr Ravisse said.

The protestors demand a 10-year moratorium on business taxes and want Calais to be declared an economic “free zone.”

 “We have the right to be fed up with this situation without being accused of racism,” a woman shopkeeper told Le Monde.

Residents of Calais say their homes find no buyers, even when heavily discounted. 

They avoid hospital emergency rooms, which are crowded with migrants, no longer use the ring road which leads to the port, because it is often the scene of battles between police and migrants, and limit their speed on the autoroute for fear of running over migrants trying to reach the tunnel.

Treated as pariahs

Calais was already one of the poorest towns in France, with per capita income 41 per cent below the national average and 17 per cent unemployment. 

A quarter of households live beneath the poverty line. In last December’s regional elections, 59 per cent of votes in the first round went to the extreme right wing National Front.

Migrants are treated as pariahs. The city authority has banned all but card-carrying residents from the swimming pool and médiathèque (multi-media library). Many residents have stopped shopping at the Lidl supermarket where migrants buy groceries.  A department store that sold sports clothes near Dunkirk is empty because customers are reportedly afraid of catching scabies from items touched by migrants.

Barbed wire

The Eurotunnel company has disfigured the countryside and white sand beaches are inaccessible beyond barbed wire fences.  Calaisians call the vast installation, which is surrounded by innumerable fences, “Guantanamo”.  The remaining vegetation was destroyed last year, and Eurotunnel has flooded surrounding fields to make a natural barrier. 

In contrast to Calais, the town of Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, 42km away, yesterday opened a new camp that meets international standards for 1,050 Kurdish migrants who had lived in terrible conditions comparable to those in the Calais Jungle. 

Instead of housing migrants in numbered freight containers, like those in the Calais, Grande-Synthe has wooden shelters and a permanent clinic for Doctors Without Borders. Local associations will provide meals for the migrants and the town has budgeted €2.5 million to maintain the camp this year.