Calais ‘Jungle’: Court rejects plans to demolish refugee shops set up in camp

The shops provide vital 'meeting places,' judge rules

Harriet Agerholm
Friday 12 August 2016 18:18 BST
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Preserving the shops will help protect the dignity of the refugees in the 'Jungle' camp, Help Refugees say
Preserving the shops will help protect the dignity of the refugees in the 'Jungle' camp, Help Refugees say (Getty)

A French court has refused proposals by Calais authorities to demolish more than 70 shops and restaurants in the “Jungle” camp, which hosts thousands of refugees.

Over the past year, those living in the camp have built makeshift plywood shelters that have become hairdressers, convenience stores, grocers, cafes and restaurants.

The prefecture in Calais had planned to demolish the shops on the basis they did not pay tax or conform to health and safety requirements.

French police had already seized stock and arrested at least 13 shopkeepers in a series of raids. The authorities accused store owners of running illegal businesses.

The judge at Lille’s administrative court said the authorities' concerns were “totally understandable”, but there was no legal basis for destroying the market stalls.

Judge Jean-François ruled the stores were a much needed resource for residents of the camp, who were living "in extremely precarious conditions". They provided vital "calm meeting places between migrants and volunteer workers", he said.

Some of the stores are used as emergency accommodation for new arrivals at the camp, where the number of residents has swelled to over 9,000.

Leading charity, Help Refugees, said the decision to keep the shops would help protect the dignity of the people in the camp.

“With our latest census showing 9,106 residents in the camp, and with food resources already so limited, this ruling means that people's dignity and hunger will not be exacerbated even further than they already are," they said in a statement.

A petition to save the Jungle Book Kids’ Cafe in the camp, which provides 200 meals every day as well as schooling and asylum advice, had reached 170,000 signatures prior to the ruling.

Harri Reed, who set up the petition, told The Independent the cafe's future remained uncertain.

“It's not a hundred per cent set in stone that the cafe is going to be back up and running, but for now it's an absolute success," she said.

Ms Reed, who teaches English and Music at the Calais camp, said the Kids' Cafe had been out of action since the police raids, but after the judgment she hoped they would be up and running within the week.

Speaking about the health and safety concerns raised, Ms Reed said: “You can't pick and choose the laws you apply. If you're going to enforce health and safety laws you need to apply laws of child protection.”

There are 865 children currently in the Jungle camp, according to Help Refugees. Almost 80 per cent of the children are alone.

After the southern section of the Calais camp was demolished in March, 129 unaccompanied minors went missing.

Threats by the Mayor of Calais to destroy the remainder of the camp have been met with warnings from refugee groups of the severe consequences for the children there.

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