CALAIS –– Iranian migrants have sewn their lips together in protest against the partial demolition of the “Jungle” camp in Calais.
Migrants in other European countries have previously taken the drastic step of stitching their mouths closed to draw attention to their plight, but it is believed to be the first time they have done so in Calais.
Some also wore blindfolds during a demonstration against their eviction from the squalid camp by French police, who used tear gas to drive out hundreds of migrants.
The Iranians held up a sign urging the United Nations to send a representative to visit the “Jungle”. They also held up placards in English reading We Are Humans, Where Is Our Democracy? and Where Is Our Freedom?
The authorities are razing the southern sector of the shanty town.
The operation began on Monday after a judge upheld a government eviction order and dismissed a challenge by NGOs.
France wants migrants who have been living in wooden shacks and tents to move into converted shipping containers in a fenced-off compound at the camp, or to about 100 official reception centres around the country.
They are being offered the possibility of applying for asylum in France, but most of the several thousand migrants at the “Jungle” are reluctant to do so because they want to smuggle themselves across the Channel. Many claim to have relatives already living in Britain.
The muddy ground of the camp is littered with charred debris from fires either started deliberately by migrants or caused by tear gas grenades.
The authorities are bulldozing empty shelters in the southern sector in what local officials say is the first step towards the eventual demolition of the entire camp, although no time frame has been set.
A Sudanese man in his 50s who had been suffering from respiratory problems was found dead in his shack yesterday. Friends said he had applied for asylum in France and had been to an official accommodation centre, but was unimpressed with conditions there and returned to the “Jungle”.
Some migrants have headed to another camp near Dunkirk where conditions are even worse.
Others are going to other ferry ports in Normandy such as Cherbourg because they believe it will be easier to cross the Channel from there.
Security has been stepped up at the port of Calais and around the Eurotunnel entrance, creating a bottleneck of migrants in the area.