France is vowing to dismantle the temporary camp known as the 'Jungle' in Calais, where nearly 7,000 refugees, plagued by a food shortage, have been living while trying to cross into England.
Bernard Cazeneuve, French minister of the interior, made the announcement from the French port city on Friday.
"The state is there, with a concrete solution," Cazeneuve vowed in an interview with with the Nord Littoral newspaper.
"This needs to be done in steps, starting by creating housing in France to unblock Calais," he said in the interview.
Cazaneuve said that the thousands of migrants at the camp would be give alternative housing elsewhere in France. According to the minister, more than 5,500 migrants had already been resettled from Calais.
The Calais refugee camp sits on the northern-most tip of France, just on the Strait of Dover. The port town has been a hub for migrants hoping to cross through the EuroTunnel to the United Kingdom, or to hop a ferry to take them across.
The French government, however, has long tried to keep migrants from setting up camp in the area. Repeated police raids have shut down the camp, but it has always reconstituted itself.
Earlier this year, the UN raised concerns about life in the camp. More recently, NGOs who provide humanitarian relief to the camp have warned of a food shortage.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to act, as tensions in the area grew.
On one side, locals, including the mayor, had vowed to disrupt ferry traffic to the UK by organizing a blockade of the ferry port, unless the government moved to dismantle the camp. Gangs and human smugglers, meanwhile, have used intimidation tactics to try and ferry migrants across the stretch of water.
Quality of life for the migrants inside the camp, meanwhile, has deteriorated. Food is running scarce as donations have slowed in the two years since the migrant crisis exploded in France.
"When there's a difficult situation, worries, tensions like today because of the migrant crisis which results in disorder, the state must respond, listen, and advance solutions. It's normal," Cazaneuve said. He added that his ministry had worked to double the number of police officers in Calais, and more are on the way.
While much of Europe has struggled to cope with the influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees displaced by the ongoing conflict in those countries, the Calais camp is mostly made up of Sudanese and Afghani refugees, according to a census compiled by two local NGO groups — a census that puts the total population at more than 9,000, significantly more than the French government's own statistics.
That census reports that the camp is home to 676 unaccompanied minors. Cazaneuve promised to work to unify those children with their parents, many of whom had made the potentially-dangerous trip to the UK on their own.
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