Truckers protest at Calais over the Jungle migrant camp

By James McAuley

Truckers and farmers block the highway near Calais, northern France. Photo / AP
Truckers and farmers block the highway near Calais, northern France. Photo / AP

French truck drivers and farmers began a massive blockade of Calais's roadways today, threatening to block the northern French port for days on end until the city's major migrant camp is dismantled.

Although the French Government promised last week to raze the so-called "Jungle" camp outside the city - where as many as 10,000 migrants and refugees live in squalor - by the end of 2017, the truckers are demanding an immediate solution to what they are describing as a recent spike in violence on nearby roads.

A majority of the migrants and refugees in the Jungle are desperate to reach Britain, just 32km from Calais across the English Channel.

Truckers complain that in recent weeks, migrants and people smugglers have staged dangerous barricades and other diversions on major thoroughfares, in order to climb aboard British-bound vehicles before they enter the Channel Tunnel.

"We are determined to show that we are not happy with the situation," Jean-Pierre Devigne, an official with France's largest trucking union, the Fédération Nationale des Transports Routiers (FNTR) told the BBC's Radio 4. "We [will] stay for the time we need."

FNTR officials did not immediately respond to requests for further comment.

A partial governmental demolition of the Jungle's most populous area six months ago led to few changes.

To the chagrin of drivers and townspeople, thousands of migrants and refugees are still living on the outskirts of Calais, and to the chagrin of aid workers, the squalid conditions they inhabit have hardly improved.

In both French and British media, some drivers have reported individuals with knives and other weapons waiting by the sides of the roads, but aid organisations insist these are most often people smugglers, not migrants themselves.

Demolition of the Jungle, they argue, would only exacerbate a situation that has continually worsened in the course of the last year.

In a statement, Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, a non-governmental aid organisation, said that "demolitions do not act as a deterrent. The refugees come because they have no choice - they are fleeing war and persecution. Destroying their homes achieves nothing more than making living conditions so much more inhumane".

Demonstrators hold French flags as truckers block the highway near Calais, northern France. Photo / AP
Demonstrators hold French flags as truckers block the highway near Calais, northern France. Photo / AP

- Washington Post

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