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French Authorities Demolish Refugee Camp


There is chaos in the French refugee camp that has come to be known as the Jungle. In an effort to dismantle the camp, riot police in Calais have directed bulldozers and fired tear gas and water cannons at the refugees, and some aid workers have been caught in the crossfire. Clare Moseley is co-founder of the aid group Care4Calais, and she joins us now on the line from Calais. Thanks so much for being with us.


MARTIN: This sounds like a horrible scene. Can you just describe what happened when the demolition began?

MOSELEY: Yes. It has been unbelievably horrific and traumatic for the refugees, and not at all in line with what we were expecting after hearing French officials talk about it being done in a humane and dignified manner. They came in very forcefully. They told the refugees they had one hour to leave their houses or they would be arrested. And the minute the refugees were out of the houses, they stepped in and begin demolishing them with axes and hand tools and carting all the remains away with bulldozers.

MARTIN: Are these structures that were already there, that were uninhabited, or were houses built for them?

MOSELEY: This camp has been around since March 2015. And originally, all the refugees were just living in tents. And over the last six months, we've had a massive project with volunteers from all over Europe coming in and building little shelters. These are tiny, little, one-room wooden shacks.

MARTIN: The French interior minister said that the French government has set up over 100 shelters across the country for migrants as an alternative to this camp. Are you seeing any evidence that those people are finding their way to those shelters?

MOSELEY: Well, some people are, but the government has nowhere near enough accommodation for the refugees that are going to be displaced. If it was about re-housing them, they would be taking them out, putting them on buses, taking them to find their new homes, putting them in places, and then maybe in a few weeks, they'd come back and dismantle the site. But what we're seeing is the minute a refugee steps away from his home, they come literally rushing in with the axes, with the bulldozers, desperate to get those shelters dismantled as fast as possible. Nobody's even looking to see which direction the refugees are walking in. No one's checking to see they get a better home. This exercise is about dismantling the camp.

MARTIN: How have the refugees responded? I mean, have they just fled, or have any stayed in protest?

MOSELEY: The legal advice we'd been given was that they have a human right to accommodation. They're in Europe, and they have human rights now, so they were advised that they should be able to stay in their homes. So some of them tried to do a sit-in protest in the houses, but they were forcibly removed by the police. And then in the last few days, we've seen this absolutely shocking and awful protest by the Iranians who are sewing their mouths together to symbolize the fact that they've got not voice. They've refused food, they're on hunger strike, and I just - I cannot even explain to you how awful it is to see people driven to these kind of desperate measures when the law has failed them, the aid workers can't help them, and there's just nothing else they can do. It's heartbreaking.

MARTIN: Clare Moseley is a co-founder of the aid group Care4Calais. She joined us on the line from Calais, France. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MOSELEY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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