All eyes were on the massive migrant camp in Calais, nicknamed the “jungle” by its occupants, when it was dismantled on Tuesday. Scenes of desperate-looking immigrants watching their scarce belongings razed by French riot police were caught on camera by French and British TV. Thirty kilometres from there, another "jungle", suffered the same fate; only this time no-one was watching.
The Calais "jungle" was France's most notorious illegal migrant camp before it was dismantled on Tuesday by over 500 policemen. The camp was set up in 2002 after the French government ordered the closure of a Red Cross shelter in nearby Sangatte. Its main occupants were Afghan refugees hoping to get across the Channel to England. France’s immigration minister, Eric Besson, hailed the dismantlement as a strong step against human trafficking and those who exploit the misery of migrants. But for several human rights associations, the operation is purely symbolic and will have no positive effect: migrants will simply be forced to find refuge in one of the dozens of other camps in the region.
Several hours after the Calais 'jungle' was demolished, security forces also razed another migrant camp, at Loon-Plage near Dunkirk. Our Observer was there, he gave us this account.
"Policemen have already destroyed the camp at least ten times"
Aïssa Zaibet is a junior high school supervisor in Dunkirk and a member of the People’s Anti-Racist and Pro-Friendship Movement (MRAP). He's been helping the Loon-Plage migrants for nearly seven years.
We've heard a lot about the Calais "jungle", but there's also a "jungle" in Dunkirk, as there are dozens around the area.
On Tuesday, at around 11 am, a dozen unmarked police vans arrived at Loon-Plage and headed straight to the part of the camp occupied by the Afghan community. The camp is divided into several sectors where migrants are grouped together by nationality. Many managed to run away before the police reached them, but at least 50 were arrested. Those who escaped did what they always do: they came back as soon as the police operation was over. We volunteers brought boxes and tarpaulin and began re-building the camp.
Loon-Plage is located right in front of the ferry terminal with departures for the UK. The camp has existed for over seven years, and has already been razed ten times by the police. Every time, the migrants came back. From here, migrants can watch the boats they one day hope to board...
I’ve helped out migrants for more than six years and have been able to draw some attention to the situation in Loon plage thanks to my blog. But there are dozens of others, all along the A16 highway that runs between Calais and Belgium via Dunkirk. Some highway rest areas were even shut down to stop migrants from setting up camps there."
A few hours after the police raid, volunteers hand out food to the remaining migrants in the camp. Photo: Aïssa Zaibet.
A section of the Loon-Plage camp. In the background, the cranes on Dunkirk's harbour.
Photo: Aïssa Zaibet.