Tue | Jan 23, 2018

Truckers block major highway protesting migrant camp closure

Published:Tuesday | September 6, 2016 | 12:00 AM


Hundreds of truckers in big rigs, farmers in tractors, and dockers and merchants on foot blocked a major highway in northern France on Monday to demand the closure of the Calais migrant camp known as the 'jungle.'

Local authorities are urging travellers to avoid the area in hopes of limiting disruptions from the Monday blockade, aimed at paralysing traffic on the route used to access Britain via the Eurotunnel and port.

Tensions have increased as the population of the camp has risen to at least 7,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa, who are trying to reach Britain. The upsurge has come even though authorities have tightened security and closed half of the camp, showing the challenges of Europe's migrant crisis.

"We should not be misunderstood. We have nothing against migrants. We have just a lot of animosity towards the government, which does not make good decisions," Frederic Van Gansbeke, who helped organise the protest, insisted.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Friday that the government would dismantle the camp "in a controlled operation" as soon as possible, but protesters want him to set a date.

Truckers are frustrated by migrants' attempts to hop into their vehicles to slip across the English Channel, and local businesses say the migrants have become an economic drain on the city and a stain on its image.

"We are fed up with the migrant situation in Calais. They are increasingly aggressive," said French trucker Blaise Paccou. "We leave in the morning. We don't know how we're going to return in the evening, because of the rocks and metal bars being thrown at us."

Migrants have resorted in recent months to increasingly dangerous tactics to slow trucks so they can hop in the back, throwing tree branches and other objects on to the roadway, a risk for truckers and themselves. Seven migrants have been killed on the road this year.