As Calais Migrant Camp Closes, Refugees Not Seeking Asylum In France Look To U.K.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
France will begin dismantling a migrant camp in Calais tomorrow. It's called the Jungle, and it's been home to thousands of refugees, many of whom are trying to reach the United Kingdom across the channel, others who are trying to seek asylum there in France. Maya Konforti is on the board of administrators for L'Auberge des Migrants, and she joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.
MAYA KONFORTI: You're welcome.
MARTIN: What happens to the migrants living in this camp after it's dismantled?
KONFORTI: So tomorrow, we will have several thousand people that go into accommodation centers throughout France in order to pursue their request for asylum. However, about half of them will not do this. And the big question is where do those people go? This camp, as difficult as the living conditions were, provided some shelter, some food, some clothing, some social ties. So this is going to be very, very difficult.
MARTIN: Are they expected to just be absorbed into different aid agencies or shelters around France?
KONFORTI: Just the people who are ready to ask for asylum. These will go into accommodation centers. The government dreams that it will be able to put the people who don't want to go - to ask for asylum in those same accommodation centers. However, if they go there, they will be forced to go back to their countries. The government has told those people, if we find you still hanging around Calais, trying to go to the U.K., we will arrest you. And so we can only expect in the next few weeks literally a manhunt around Calais.
MARTIN: I understand there are also unaccompanied minors who've been living in this camp.
KONFORTI: Yes. So 1,200 unaccompanied minors in this camp. The French government has worked out a deal with the British government to allow the unaccompanied minors that have close family in the U.K. to go legally to the U.K., but it only accounts for about 300 of the children. So you have another 900 or 1,000 for which we need to decide what to do. The French government, they want to put the children in what we call the container camp, which is the only humanitarian thing that the government had set up in Calais. However, this is not a legally proper structure for minors.
MARTIN: Why is the camp being closed now? I mean, especially because migrants are still arriving. What are the external forces that are playing into this?
KONFORTI: It's all a political thing. The government likes to call it a humanitarian operation. I can tell you it's going to be a humanitarian catastrophe, you know, that's sending people on the street. And we're at the eve of winter. And in France, there's a special rule whereby between the first of November and the first of March you cannot put somebody on the street. So the government should not have the right to evacuate those people. Well, it's doing it just before that.
MARTIN: Maya Konforti is on the board of administrators for the migrant advocacy group L'Auberge des Migrants. Thanks so much for talking with us.
KONFORTI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.