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French Officials Will Try Again To Dismantle Refugee Camp


Britain and France say they're finally doing something to close down a makeshift camp filled with refugees. It's in Calais, France, near the entrance to the tunnel to Britain. It's filled with people trying to reach Britain. Now, repeated efforts to place the refugees have failed. Efforts to tear down this camp have failed.

But this time, authorities say they are trying to find a place for everyone so the camp can in fact be dismantled. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has spent a lot of time at that camp. She's on the line from Paris.

Hi, Eleanor.


INSKEEP: What's different about this effort?

BEARDSLEY: Well, what's different, as you said, is they're really trying to place the people before tearing the camp down. And both the British and French governments, while for years they blamed each other for this problem, they've sort of both woken up and they're talking about moral humanitarian responsibility.

France is going to put thousands of these people into proper centers around the country. And Britain is stepping in to take some of the unaccompanied minors - there's a thousand of them in this camp, Steve - going to take some of them into the U.K. who have family members there.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is reminding me of a situation along the U.S.-Mexico border where there have been flows of unaccompanied minors trying to reach family members. You're saying that's what people are trying to do with family members in Britain?

BEARDSLEY: Yes, absolutely. And according to EU law, they have to take children, minors who have family members in Britain. I was up there recently and met a 14-year-old whose father had made it across. And he needs to be reunited with his father. So the British government has recognized this and has sent people over. And they've identified these minors. And they've already begun to take them to the U.K.

INSKEEP: So this is a difference in emphasis, then? In the past, they've just tried to tear down the camp without necessarily finding some place for people to go. But are they actually going to find some place for everyone to go this time?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Steve, it's very complicated. I spoke with a humanitarian organization this morning. And they said they had wanted Britain to take more than just the children with family there. They wanted them to take all of the minors who are trying to get to Britain. He explained to me that it's something like if your family were to send you - pool all their money and resources and send you to get to China, but you only made it to India. It's just not the same thing.

So everyone may not be satisfied. But at least, you know, there is a waking up of consciousness here that this is an international humanitarian problem. People do have the right to apply for asylum, they're coming from war zones. And so finally Britain and France are stepping in to take responsibility for it.

INSKEEP: What's the population of this camp?

BEARDSLEY: You know, Steve, a couple of weeks ago when I was up there, it had reached 10,000. A hundred people were arriving every day.

INSKEEP: A hundred people arriving every day. And what will be the physical step that's taken now? Do they physically go in and bulldoze it?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, they're going to do that. A lot of it is tents in the dunes. But there are some sort of, you know, ramshackle structures. They had stores and little restaurants. I mean, people lived there through the winter. So it's actually good that there won't be another winter there. It's a muddy, horrible place, Steve. And the people are constantly harassed by police. So they will, they'll go down and completely take it down. But they're going to get the people out first.

But, Steve, this is not going to be the end of the jungle - as it's called, this camp - because the refugee situation has not improved. There's still war in the Middle East. And people will keep coming. There will always be people trying to get to Britain. And this is the closest point to Britain from the continent.

INSKEEP: So they'll tear it down, but there might be a hundred people the next day and a hundred people the day after that?


INSKEEP: Eleanor, thanks very much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.