French President François Hollande’s message to thousands of refugees at camps in Calais on Monday was clear: that their time on the move hasn’t ended.
Theis announcement that France intends to close the refugee camp Calais, also called “The Jungle,” further depletes the fleeting hopes of many refugees who saw the makeshift camps at Calais as a gateway to the United Kingdom.
The announcement that the Calais refugee camp, which houses about 9,000 people, will be “completely and definitively dismantled” came on the heels of Hollande’s first visit to the Calais port during his term. And last week, the UN General Assembly held several summits focusing on refugees and migrants.
Despite his commitment to shutter the camps, Hollande did not set foot in any of the nine makeshift refugee camps in the Calais region.
Hollande made it clear that he expects the UK to play a role in addressing France’s migration crisis, and that he will crack down on smugglers who have employed various tactics to put refugees onto cargo trucks funneling supplies between the two countries. “You will not pass,” he told the smugglers.
French authorities have begun to address the smuggling crisis by erecting a mile-long, 12-foot-high barbed wire fence along the highway.
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In response to Hollande’s announcement, UNICEF’s UK Deputy Executive Director Lily Caprani released a statement urging the British government to come up with a plan to shelter unaccompanied children currently housed at Calais.
“If mistakes from the first eviction are repeated, we will see more children going missing, falling prey to traffickers and facing the winter without a home,” she said.
There are roughly 1,000 unaccompanied children currently in the camps at Calais, according to The Guardian. Four hundred of these children have already had family members identified as living in the UK, and have a legal right to seek asylum in the country.
As for the other roughly 9,000 refugees living in “the Jungle,” the French government plans to house them in welcome centers spread throughout the country, before bulldozing operations begin in October at Calais.
There are political implications to Hollande’s announcement.
Hollande’s announcement comes just a few days after a statement by conservative leader and former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who insisted Britain take responsibility for the migrant crisis at Calais and claimed he could “fix” the issue.
As in the US, refugee resettlement has taken the center stage in French politics in preparation for the upcoming presidential elections.
Whether a large-scale refugee resettlement program can be successful in France still remains to be seen. This is not the first time the government has attempted to permanently close down Calais. Authorities razed half of the camp in March, but rather than curtailing the build-up of refugees at Calais, the population has doubled since then.
The problem, Hollande will soon find, is much more than political — as thousands of lives hang in the balance.