French truckers demanding migrant camp closure block Calais traffic

September 5, 2016 4:26 AM EDT

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By Matthias Blamont

CALAIS, France (Reuters) - Truck drivers and farmers blocked traffic on the motorway approach to France's northern port of Calais for part of Monday, demanding the closure of a migrants camp they blame for mounting insecurity and an ailing local economy.

The protest had looked set to resume on Tuesday after senior officials of the FNTR national truck drivers' federation - the organization spearheading the action - said it should continue until the government committed to a date for the camp's dismantling.

But that appeared uncertain late on Monday after the federation's president called for the go-slow to end.

Dubbed the "jungle", the squalid camp is a half-way house for thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty who dream of crossing the English Channel to Britain. It currently houses between 7,000 and 9,000.

Repeated efforts by its residents to force their way through the Channel Tunnel or stow away aboard trucks passing through the port have disrupted traffic across the busy link between France and Britain, while locals say the violent shanty town is strangling the economy.

"More and more of us want to sell our licenses. But it's dead here, no one comes into Calais anymore," said one 46-year-old taxi driver who gave his name as Raymond.

Under steady drizzle on Monday, some protesters wore high visibility jackets while others showed up in T-shirts with the inscription "J'aime Calais".

Frederic Van Gansbeke, head of an umbrella group of local businesses, said the government had ignored pleas by local people in a town that has become a flashpoint in Europe's migrant crisis.

Local police said alternative routes had ensured minimal disruption to the flow of traffic to the ferry port on Monday.

After a meeting between protest leaders and local authorities, one union boss told reporters it had been agreed an extra 200 police would be deployed to bolster the defenses of the port and its access road.


After the same meeting, FNTR president David Sagnard told reporters that the go-slow should be ended, but some protesters said they would keep blocking the motorway in coming days.

"I can't tolerate this. I didn't walk 12 km (8 miles) this morning just for that. We won't move," said demonstrator Raynald Roonis.

The jungle has been the focus of a cross-channel political debate that has become increasingly heated since Britons voted in June to exit the European Union.

In February and March, French authorities dismantled its southern half and dispersed some of its inhabitants.

The camp's population has swollen to about 7,000 migrants from 4,500 in June, according to local authorities. Humanitarian groups put the number closer to 9,000.

Last week, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said French authorities would dismantle the rest, but gave no concrete timeframe, angering local opponents of the camp.

Earlier in the day, Sagnard had complained of an escalation in attacks by migrants on trucks.

"Before, it was just attempts to get on trucks. Now there is looting and wilful destruction, tarpaulins are slashed, goods stolen or destroyed," he said. "Drivers go to work with fear in their bellies and the economic consequences are severe."

Some French opposition politicians have also called for the ditching of an agreement under which border controls take place on the French side of the sea, saying Britain should handle the problem.

(Additional reporting by Pierre Savary in Lille; Writing by Andrew Callus and Richard Lough; Editing by Richard Balmforth and John Stonestreet)

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