CALAIS, France: French President Francois Hollande said on a visit to the port of Calais Monday that the sprawling “Jungle” migrant camp would be “definitively dismantled” under a plan to relocate the migrants to centers around the country.
Hollande, on his first visit to Calais as president, also called on British authorities to “play their part” in assisting the migrants, most of whom have their hearts set on reaching England.
“I am determined to see the British authorities play their part in the humanitarian effort that France is undertaking” in Calais, Hollande said, flanked by security forces.
Between 7,000 and 10,000 migrants, many from Sudan and Afghanistan, are currently living in the “Jungle”, the launch pad for their attempts to stow away on lorries heading across the Channel to Britain.
Hollande’s visit comes just days after his conservative predecessor Sarkozy—who is hoping to return as president in elections next year—visited the town to promote his tough line on migration.
The president will meet police, local politicians, NGOs and business leaders but is not expected to visit the camp itself.
Migration has been a low-key issue under his four-year-old presidency.
But he has been forced to take a stronger stance on the issue, under pressure from brash right-winger Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
‘Nearing a solution’
Both Sarkozy and Le Pen have made immigration and national identity key themes in early campaigning for next year’s elections, which has echoes of the US race for the White House.
“We are nearing a solution,” Hollande, said referring to the Calais camp, assuring that the issue would be resolved in accordance with “the values of the Republic.”
The government has said the migrants will be moved to 164 reception centers around the country “before winter.”
A flurry of preparations in Calais there suggest the operation may begin shortly.
On a visit to one of the new reception centers in the central city of Tours at the weekend Hollande had declared that France would not be a “country of camps.”
Calais has become a symbol of Europe’s failure to resolve the migration crisis that continues to divide the continent, after people fleeing war and misery across the Mediterranean began pouring into Europe in unprecedented numbers.
Plans to relocate the Calais migrants have sparked controversy and protests, with local residents in some parts of France earmarked for new asylum centers vehemently opposed to the move.
The “Jungle” camp has also become a sore point in relations between France and Britain.