French riot police detain hundreds of migrants in Calais dawn raid

Witnesses said tear gas and pepper spray was used to disperse campaigners and refugees

Calais

Hundreds of migrants gathered in Calais to try to smuggle themselves into Britain were arrested and cleared from a makeshift camp in a pall of tear gas today during a dawn raid by French riot police.

The operation to detain more than 600 refugees, many of them from conflict zones in the Middle East and Africa, represented the strongest crackdown by the French authorities in the last five years after weeks of increasingly draconian action to slow the steady stream of migrants heading for the Channel port.

A detachment of around 200 French CRS riot officers wearing helmets and shields moved into the makeshift camp in a food distribution area on the edge of the town, where migrants had sought shelter since their main camp was bulldozed in May, just after sunrise at about 6.30am. Dozens of refugees last month went on hunger strike in protest at what they said was a state of legal limbo and squalid conditions in Calais.

A security cordon was placed around surrounding streets on Wednesday morning, preventing access by the media. But witnesses said tear gas and pepper spray was used to disperse campaigners and refugees who tried to block the eviction before migrants – mostly young men from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Eritrea – were detained and put on coaches to be driven to detention centres and police stations as far away as Paris and Rennes in Brittany.

Campaigners said they feared that many of the migrants, who refuse to formally apply for asylum in France in the hope of smuggling themselves onto lorries bound for Dover and applying for leaving to remain in Britain, will be declared “illegal” and face deportation out of France to other European countries or their country of origin within 48 hours. A similar operation in 2009 led to the deportation of dozens of migrants.

Philippe Wannesson, a refugee worker based in Calais, told The Independent: “This is the most extreme action we have seen for years. There are new provisions which we believe would allow the authorities to fast track people out of France. The authorities have been preparing for some time for further action and now we see what they had in mind. There was panic and disorientation. But this is not a long-term solution. In a few weeks, if not days, it is likely new people will follow.”

French policemen expel illegal migrants from their camp in Calais (Getty) French policemen expel illegal migrants from their camp in Calais (Getty)
Officials in the Calais regional government said police were enforcing a court order obtained to clear the feeding area, housed in a former warehouse close to the ferry terminal, and three squats used by migrants, who have no access to temporary accommodation for fear that permanent facilities would create a new “Sangatte”: the refugee camp closed following pressure from Britain in 2002.

Concern about sanitary conditions at the camps was given as one of the main reasons for the evictions. Police said the operation in May to clear tents housing several hundred men on a patch of wasteland had been because of an outbreak of scabies.

Denis  Robin, prefect of the Pas de Calais region, said: “These evictions are the enforcement of court rulings. No one was injured as a result of today’s action.”

Witnesses said the arrival of the police had caused chaos at the main camp as hundreds of migrants tried to escape the round up. Lisa Furness, a Bristol-based artist who had been photographing daily life in the camp, said: “The alarm was raised and suddenly it was pandemonium. One moment people were sleeping, the next hundreds of people were trying to save themselves.

"Lots tried to climb over the fences to escape while others tried to push the police back. But they were pepper sprayed and it was pretty clear they were facing overwhelming force.”

Calais has tried unsuccessfully for more than a decade to try to find a solution to the steady procession of refugees, many of them dispossessed by conflict or deep in debt to people traffickers, hoping to conceal themselves on board Dover-bound lorries or hook themselves to axles, often with fatal consequences.

At least eight migrants have been killed since the beginning of the year, either in road accidents or drowned while trying to swim to car ferries or evade stringent security controls. The French authorities estimate there are around 1,000 migrants in Channel ports at any one time trying to reach the UK with detentions rising from around 700 a month a year ago to the present level 1,400.

Migrants are led into a French police van (Getty) Migrants are led into a French police van (Getty)
Emmanuel Agius, deputy mayor of Calais, said: “The British frontier is now here in Calais. It is not reasonable. We do not have control over the situation.”

For their part, migrants who evaded the round up operation said the enforcement action would not deter them from their ultimate goal of reaching Britain, adding that the police action only served to underline their conviction that they had no future in France.

Two weeks ago Adam Joseph, 45, a South Sudanese farmer who paid $6,000 for a hellish journey across Africa and the Mediterranean to reach the Channel, was shot in the back by a suspected far right vigilante as he slept in the food distribution area.

The Independent found him wandering the streets. He said: “It’s scary for us when this happens. We are not bad people so why send in these robo-cops while we sleep? We get shot at, we get raided. Just let us live with a little dignity while we try to go where we want to go.”

Campaigners said the raid represented the failure of both Britain and France to deal with the issues that make Calais a magnet for the aspirations of thousands seeking a new life.

Mateus Ferri, a volunteer who works with the refugees, said: “This is a shame for the whole of Europe, including Britain and France. These people came here with a dream of a new life and a dream of freedom. And yet today we have this evacuation which looks closer to the Second World War than the 21st century. It makes me angry.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from a scene cut from The Interview showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's death.
tech
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
Arts and Entertainment
Bianca Miller and Katie Bulmer-Cooke are scrutinised by Lord Sugar's aide Nick Hewer on The Apprentice final
tvBut Bianca Miller has taken on board his comments over pricing
News
in picturesWounded and mangy husky puppy rescued from dump
News
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Life and Style
Duchess of Cambridge standswith officials outside of the former wartime spy centre in Bletchley Park
tech
News
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operations Manager

£43500 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Night Shift Operatio...

The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance Manager

£50000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Resident Maintenance...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'