CALAIS, France (Reuters) - French bulldozers have begun to clear a 100-metre (110-yard) strip next to a road that passes above a migrant camp in Calais, as local authorities attempt to secure a busy traffic route between France and Britain.
Thousands of refugee fleeing war and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have gathered in or near the northern coastal town over the past year, using it as a stopover point before trying to enter Britain in the hope of a better life.
Many have tried repeatedly to cross the English Channel by jumping onto lorries, hiding on trains before they enter the Channel Tunnel or walking through the tunnel, where security was ramped up in October.
Since then, incidents on the road between Calais and its port have become more frequent, especially near a slum known as “the jungle” where around 4,000 refugees camp and where the strip is now being cleared, the authorities said.
Police said migrants were often disrupting traffic at night, hoping to get onto lorries.
A spokesman for the Pas-de-Calais region said clearance of the site, which started on Monday, would take two weeks to clear, adding there had been no forced evacuations so far. “We estimate that 500 to 700 people have agreed to move their tents”, he said.
“We respect the law, we can’t deal with the police anyway. Some communities said they would not leave but after discussions they agreed,” said one of those displaced, 38-year-old Muhammed from Sudan.
With the migrants facing squalid conditions, freezing temperatures and reduced access to free food, those displaced were being reminded of their rights to apply for asylum or move to a shelter made of shipping containers, the Pas-de-Calais spokesman said.
The shelter, designed to accommodate up to 1,500 people, was opened last week.
Many refugees told Reuters they were reluctant to move there because access is controlled by handprint technology.
Reporting by Matthias Blamont; editing by John Stonestreet