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  • The French government plans to close down the Grande-Synthe camp as soon as possible

    The French government plans to close down the Grande-Synthe camp as soon as possible | Photo: AFP

Published 15 March 2017

"You can easily see that we play an essential role (in helping migrants and refugees) and I don't see how you can stop this," said a local mayor.

The French government said Wednesday it plans to dismantle a migrant camp built by humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders on its northern coast, less than six months after clearing a separate camp in nearby Calais.

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Speaking at a French senate hearing, Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said security forces would close the Grande-Synthe facility near the port of Dunkirk "as soon as possible," under the pretext of violent clashes reported in the area.

The camp's wooden cabins, home to about 1,500 migrants and refugees, most of them Kurds, were opened in March 2016 by the charity group over the objections of the central government.

"It's no longer just a question of re-establishing public order" in the camp, Le Roux said. France will proceed with a "progressive dismantling of the camp which should start as soon as possible," he said, adding that "we can't let things continue like this."

After fleeing war or poverty, thousands have gathered near French ports where they seek to hop on trucks heading to Britain or pay smugglers to help them get across the Channel.

The issue is a constant source of friction between Britain and France and an embarrassment for the French government, which has been criticized by the United Nations refugee agency for failing to provide adequate accommodation.

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In October last year, police began dismantling the so-called "Jungle" camp near Calais, which was home to thousands, forcibly relocating its residents to throughout France, leading to a backlash from some far-right mayors.

The mayor of Grande-Synthe, an environmentalist who encouraged the charity to build the camp, told AFP he was unaware of the government's plans to tear down the facility, billed as France's only "international standard" camp when it opened.

"I'm very surprised and I don't agree," Damien Careme told AFP after Le Roux's announcement, adding that there had been some minor violence on Tuesday night during a demonstration but that it did not justify the closure.

"You can easily see that we play an essential role (in helping migrants and refugees) and I don't see how you can stop this," he said.

As the United Kingdom quietly announced in early February that it will no longer welcome 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees as promised, pro-refugee associations reported that many of the children were returning to Calais. They reportedly left designated centers for minors in a desperate bid to cross the border.

The forced closure of the infamous "Jungle" has also led to an influx of migrants into the French capital. With only one reception center, hundreds of migrants are forced to sleep on the streets, where they face almost constant police harassment.

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