Fire destroys French migrant camp

Fire destroys French migrant camp

A camp housing 1,500 migrants in northern France has been destroyed in a fire that began during a fight between Afghans and Kurds. At least 10 people were injured when the fire tore through..

A camp housing 1,500 migrants in northern France has been destroyed in a fire that began during a fight between Afghans and Kurds. At least 10 people were injured when the fire tore through closely-packed huts at the Grande-Synthe camp, near the port of Dunkirk.

Last month officials said the camp would be dismantled because of unrest. The French north coast has been a magnet for migrants trying to reach Britain. There is nothing left but a heap of ashes.

What next?

The French authorities have already made detailed plans for moving migrants out of the Jungle camp near Calais. They want this to be a swift and efficient operation. The police, NGOs and asylum services have had many weeks to prepare, and on paper, all is in place.

A fleet of 150 buses has been hired. Over the next few days, these will disperse to points across France, bearing migrants to new Welcome and Orientation Centres (CAOs). The Jungle population - estimated at 7,000 - has had plenty of warning. Many of them have taken the route to CAOs already. But in the past the move was voluntary. Now the migrants are told they have no choice.

They must board the buses and stay on them, or face being sent to "administrative centres" - the first step (in theory if not in practice) to possible deportation. The authorities hope that in two days they will have shifted 4,000 people.

Analysis

It will be impossible to put the huts back where they were before. The population of the Grande-Synthe camp has grown since last October's destruction of the "Jungle" camp near Calais, about 40 km (25 miles) away.

The arrival of more Afghans increased tensions with Kurds living in the camp. The migrants have been evacuated and will be sent to emergency accommodation, with two gymnasiums nearby already made available.

The people of Calais will welcome a return to normality, and a point of growing tension between Paris and London will be defused.

Assessment

Calais is an important issue in next year's presidential election in France, with the favourite Alain Juppe urging a renegotiation of the border arrangements under which UK officials process travellers in France. If the pressure is off, and the Jungle remains empty, then this may drop down the French agenda. Everything from the past suggests that the Calais migrant problem is chronic, and liable to deteriorate.

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