Calais mayor bans distribution of food to migrants

Indo Asian News Service

Calais, March 3 (IANS) The mayor of Calais has banned the distribution of food to migrants in a bid to prevent the establishment of a new refugee camp barely four months after the "Jungle" shanty-town was demolished.

Natacha Bouchart, from the centre-right Les Républicains party, said she would implement policies "to prevent the distribution of meals to migrants", the Guardian reported.

Legal documents setting out the restrictions were put up in the vicinity of the camp on Thursday. Officials have already obstructed attempts by local charities to open showers for teenage migrants in the town.

Food distribution volunteers said they had been forced to do so in secret because of a heightened police presence. Refugee charities said they would ignore the ban but were taking legal advice.

The mayoral decree said the "regular, persistent and large presence of individuals distributing meals to migrants" in the area around the site of the former camp posed a threat to the peace and security of the area.

It banned any "repeated, prolonged gatherings" in the area, in effect making food distribution an offence.

Sarah Arrom, who has been helping to distribute food with the charity Utopia56 for the last four months, said police had fired teargas to prevent volunteers from giving breakfast to about 30 teenagers in a field near the motorway outside the city on Thursday.

"They wanted to stop the distribution and they wanted to stop people from sleeping in the area."

"There has never been teargas before when we've been trying to hand out food," Arrom added.

Teenage refugees had been detained by the police twice this week after visiting the Secours Catholique centre, which offers showers for refugees in the city, she said.

"Conditions are becoming more and more problematic for the migrants. They don't sleep, they can't take a shower, they are more and more tired. We are really worried about their future."

Christian Salomé, the president of the Auberge des Migrants charity, said a ban would be catastrophic for refugee children. "Adults will always find a way to buy food in the shops, but for minors it will be a real problem -- they have no money at all."

France's Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux said that there would be no new camp in Calais during a visit on Wednesday. However, he added: "We will not prevent the distribution of meals."

It came as more than 400 migrants, mostly unaccompanied children, returned to northern France in recent weeks.

The former Calais camp was home to as many as 10,000 people before it was cleared in October.