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Migrants Sew Their Lips Shut in Protest at Calais 'Jungle' Demolition

As the violent demolition of a large section of the French migrant camp enters a third day, a group of Iranian men have sewn their lips shut in protest at how the camp's residents are being treated.

by Sally Hayden
Mar 2 2016, 3:55pm

(Photo par Michel Spingler/AP)

A group of seven Iranian migrants sewed their mouths shut today in protest against the conditions at the "Jungle" camp in the port town of Calais, France — as authorities resumed their violent demolition of a large section of the site.

Holding signs with slogans such as "Representatives of the United Nations and human rights come and bear witness, we are humans," and "Where is your democracy, where is our freedom?", the men marched to a line of police charged with overseeing the clearance of part of the camp.

(Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Northern Iraqi migrant Sarwar, aged 33, who was not taking part in the protest, said he did not know where to go now that the camp was being destroyed.

"I'm planning to go to UK, but how? The border is closed. I cannot live in the Jungle anymore because CRS (French riot police) no leave me alone, destroyed my shelter, and I don't know where my life is going," he said.

Sarwar, who has been living in the camp for six months, said he did not want to go to the containers offered by French authorities as alternative accommodation to the Jungle.

"France's government said go to the camp but the container is not enough for live, not enough for life, and why I'm happy to stay here? Lack of freedom. The camp is, I'm 100 percent exactly sure, like a prison. You go out, try to fingerprint, you go in, try to fingerprint, the prison is like that," he said.

(Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

Earlier the group had gathered in an on-site "information center" meters from the now iconic St Michaels church to carry out the act.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" one volunteer asked. Another asked if anyone had painkillers.

Iranian teenager Hamid, 17, who said he traveled to Calais alone but has a brother in the UK told VICE News he had heard the protest was happening but didn't think it would bring "peace" to the Jungle.

Related: Asylum Seekers Say They're Ready to Die Protesting Illegal European Border Restrictions

Refugees and migrants have previously sewn their lips shut on the Greece-Macedonia border in protest at their treatment.

A demolition process began on Monday to clear part of the site — which is home to between 4,000 and 5,500 people — after the French government won a legal battle to force migrants to move to a nearby park of converted shipping containers or other reception centers in France. It wants to reduce the camp's size to a maximum of 2,000 residents.

Charities working in the camp reported the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons, bulldozers, mallets, and chainsaws, despite a promise from French authorities that the eviction process would be gradual and peaceful.

(Photo by Daniel Bateman/VICE News)

Many refugees, many forced to leave without their belongings, don't have a plan.

"Today, it's this area. May be tomorrow, they'll come to my area," said an Iraqi refugee. "I don't have any plan because I don't know what I can do. If I go to camp, they are going to take my fingerprint. If I don't go to camp, going outside is a problem, especially for the kids as well. I can't stay outside."

Related: In Photos: Dunkirk's Refugee Wasteland, Even Worse Than the Calais Jungle

An Afghani refugee said the French shipping container shelter was now full. "Right now we are living inside the theater and we don't have any place to rest. They don't have any space over there. That's why we are staying outside," he said.

"There's a theater dorm over there inside the jungle. So they told us if we don't have any place to rest, you have to go over there and sleep for tonight or maybe two to three days. Maybe we will find some solution for this," he added.

(Photo by Daniel Bateman/VICE News)

VICE News spoke to a 25-year-old Afghan man travelling with his six-year-old brother. Jawad Amiri showed us the redness in his young brother's eyes left by tear gas fired by the French police.

Many people living in the camp do not want to move to the French government's official site as they will be required to have their hand prints recorded, and they believe they will be forced to apply for asylum in France and be monitored by a constant security presence.

Some shelters have been set on fire, though it is not clear who by. Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

Most want to get to England because the success rate of asylum requests is almost double that of France's (41 percent versus 25 percent), the unemployment rate is about half (5 percent versus 10 percent), and many have family members already in Britain.

Charities say many people are being forced out of the camp having had all their belongings destroyed, with nowhere else to go. They have expressed particular concern about the hundreds of unaccompanied minors in the camp, as well as the children being caught up in the tear gas.

Related: 'I Am Alone With No Family': The Fight to Let Child Refugees Into Britain

Reuters contributed to this report.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

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