In a decision that promises to displace thousands of refugees, including hundreds of unaccompanied children, a French judge on Thursday upheld a regional official's approval for a plan to bulldoze the southern portion of the sprawling refugee camp in Calais, France. The judge's decision rejected an emergency appeal filed by a group of charities which sought to have the plan overturned.
The Guardian reported that the groups "filed an urgent appeal to a tribunal asking it to suspend the planned evacuation and demolition until safe and appropriate alternatives had been found for its residents, particularly unaccompanied minors."
But a spokesman for the Pas-de-Calais prefect's office said that "[t]he order is applicable, except for common social areas," according to France 24. There are no details on when precisely demolition is set to begin.
Help Refugees, one of the charities behind the emergency appeal, said in a statement that it understood the judge's decision to mean that "churches, mosques, schools, the library, the women and children’s center, and the youth center" will be spared demolition.
The humanitarian group noted that its "concerns particularly remain with the 305 unaccompanied children who will be evicted from their living quarters without proper assessment, safeguarding or suitable alternative provisions."
Help Refugees promised to immediately appeal this most recent ruling.
The Calais prefecture estimated that up to 1,000 would be displaced by their plan to raze part of the camp, but Help Refugees, which works directly with residents of the camp, says that 3,455 will be evicted by the government's action.
Dr. Philip McCarthy, CEO of the Catholic Social Action Network (CSAN), told Christian Today that if the camp is destroyed, "Some [people] will be forced into the arms of people traffickers, some will attempt the risky crossing of the Channel. Some will be dispersed only to come back. We're urging our government to intervene. No one should be living in the mud."
The Pas-de-Calais region in which the camp is located has several times in recent weeks attempted to destroy large portions of "the Jungle," as the camp has come to be known. An earlier effort to destroy a third of the camp in January was met by residents with promises of peaceful resistance, as Common Dreams reported.
Local officials' antagonism toward the camp has held firm despite those efforts. "We are pleased," Philippe Mignonet, Calais’s deputy mayor, told the Washington Post regarding Thursday's court's decision. "We’ve been asking for that for ages."
Destruction of the camp is one of many pressing threats to refugees' lives in Calais, say humanitarian groups working in the camp.
A recent report by Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) lamented that "[t]hese are tough days for migrants in the Calais area; they are scared of many things. Not just of the police, or of the possibility that the camp might be razed. They are also scared of the locals. Some people have been beaten by civilians in the city or on the highway. They are afraid of everyone now, even those who are trying to help. And many believe that the French police condone such attacks, and so they don’t feel like there is anyone there to protect them."