Security forces in France are reported to have been dismantling migrant tents while the migrants were away to receive meals at public distribution points. The association Auberge des migrants has denounced the actions.
After a slow start in early March, more and more migrants in Calais are taking advantage of meals now provided by the French government through the association La Vie Active.
Around a hundred migrants turned up at distribution points over the last weeks, a huge increase after only a dozen or so showed up during the first days of the distribution.
Migrants became more willing to use the service after barbed wire surrounding the site was removed and there was a reduction in the number of police officers and journalists on the site.
The number of people benefitting from the service has been rising steadily since its launch on March 6, says Fabien Sudry, the prefect of Pas-de-Calais. "The population needed time to get used to a new service,” Sudry says.
On Thursday last week, a total of 280 meals were passed out, according to La Vie Active, though it noted that some people come through the line more than once or pick up meals for their friends.
Tweet from the Pas-de-Calais prefecture, translated from French: The state [is] present in #Calais #Aid for #Migrants #Reinforcement Between March 6 and 22, the government distributed 6,678 breakfasts and meals to the migrant population.
“The first three or four days were a little difficult,” said Stéphane Duval, director of La Vie Active. “[But] little by little, more and more meals were distributed. Some people are still resistant, but, overall, there’s no problem.”
"When they went back, their tents had disappeared"
However, the association Auberge des migrants doesn’t fully agree with that assessment. While a representative for the association was "thrilled that the State had taken up its responsibilities in Calais”, he added nuance to the results lauded by the prefecture and La Vie Active.
"Yes, they removed the police presence and they increased the number of distribution points,” François Guennoc told InfoMigrants. “They are making an effort but, at the same time, they are dismantling the camps during meal times! Even though they promised not to!”
According to the association, security forces had destroyed shelters in the Verrotières camp, where hundreds of people are staying.
"The migrants went to get breakfast and, when they returned, their tents and personal items had disappeared,” said Loan Torondel, a volunteer with Auberge des migrants, who was present that day.
The association claims that several of its members were summoned to the police station on March 26 and that security forces banned them from redistributing tents.
Translation: About 20 vehicles belonging to the local police force, riot police and the city sanitation department are in Verrotieres. Dismantlement will happen in the next few minutes. Of course, this is totally illegal. None of the exiles were informed about the expulsion... Tonight, they will sleep in the woods. #DestructionShelter #Calais pic.twitter.com/bNtrirNaaX
Et le petit plus spécial préfecture : on démantèle le camp en même temps que les distributions de nourriture, comme ça ceux qui sont partis prendre des repas ne sont pas là pour récupérer leurs affaires... pic.twitter.com/xHnd3ctfGb— Auberge des Migrants (@AubergeMigrants) March 23, 2018
Translation: And the special little extra from the prefecture: we’ll dismantle the camp while meals are being distributed so those who went to go get meals aren’t there to get their belongings... pic.twitter.com/xHnd3ctfGb
For the time being, Auberge des migrants is still distributing meals at different times than La Vie Active.
"We aren’t trying to compete. But we need to feed people who are too afraid to go to their distributions." Every night, Auberge des Migrants distributes meals to around 500 migrants.
The distribution points are “the same as before: rue des Verrotières, in front of Lidl, near the hospital…", says Torondel. "We hand out meals in the evening between 7 pm or 8 pm and 10 pm".
As a reminder, the meal distributions are located at:
-Rue des Huttes: Morning distribution from 9 am to 10 am, then in the evening from 3 pm to 4:30 pm
-Zone d’activité du Virval (near the hospital complex): Morning distribution from 10 am to 11 am, then in the evening from 4:30 pm to 6 pm
-Marcel Doret industrial zone, near the BMX park