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World

French Court Postpones Demolition Of Sprawling Refugee Camp In Calais

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Part of a sprawling, unofficial refugee camp outside a French port was supposed to be demolished today, but humanitarian organizations protested and a court postponed the camp's demolition. Thousands of migrants have been stranded there after failing to cross the English Channel to Britain. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Calais.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa usually have a country they want to get to. For most, it's been Germany or Sweden. For the migrants who come to the northern French port of Calais, it's Britain. But the U.K. isn't taking them, so the sprawling tent city known as the jungle just keeps growing.

CHRISTIAN SALOME: In Calais, we can estimate there is 7,000 people.

BEARDSLEY: That's Christian Salome, head of a charity that works in the jungle. French and British charities, not their governments, have been the ones helping the migrants here. The camp has all but destroyed tourism in Calais, and the migrants' efforts to reach Britain by stowing away on trains and trucks is disrupting traffic through the channel tunnel and on ferry services. Calais has become a symbol of Europe's inability to handle the refugee crisis. French authorities recently installed containers as temporary housing, and they've also built a proper refugee center in the nearby city of Dunkirk. Now they want to raze most of the unofficial camp.

BERNARD CAZENEUVE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the operation would be carried out with respect to the people living there and taking into account each individual situation. Humanitarian organizations say there's not enough accommodation. Salome says if the jungle is razed, thousands of migrants would have nowhere to go.

SALOME: So it's not a good thing to destroy something which is existing and after to have nothing else to propose to the new refugees, who will arrive.

BEARDSLEY: Despite miserable conditions in the mud, cold and drizzle, migrants say they want to stay and keep trying to get to Britain, even though many have died in the attempt. Thirty-five-year-old Afghan Farid Hamdrid says he will not give up.

FARID HAMDRID: Yeah, I have a family. I have four kids in Afghanistan. And really, we don't have, you know, like, safe security life in Afghanistan.

BEARDSLEY: Celebrities have joined a campaign in Britain to try to persuade the government to let children from the camp be reunited with families already in Britain. French humanitarian worker Salome says if the U.K. and France really tried they could resettle these refugees, just like they did after World War II.

SALOME: Now the political message is more we will block the war refugees so they cannot arrive into our countries. And on a human point of view, it's horrible.

BEARDSLEY: The court is set to rule on the Calais camp's future later this week. Even if the camp is destroyed, Salome says the refugees will continue to come. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Calais, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.