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France Closes Illegal Immigrant Camp on Channel

The French government announced it would close a zone occupied by immigrant squatters near the English Channel as part of its larger crackdown on illegal immigration. The move has been sharply criticized for failing to resolve long-standing problems of immigration and asylum.

The zone is known as 'the jungle' - an area the government says is rife with crime, located near the French port of Calais. Several hundred illegal immigrants squat in "the jungle." Many are from Iraq and Afghanistan and are hoping to cross the channel by train or ferry for what they hope is a better life in Britain.

After warning for months the squatter camp would be dismantled, immigration minister Eric Besson said this week that the area would be closed within days.

In remarks on French radio, Besson described the official French policy as a mix of firmness and humanity. He said French authorities have closed down a number of illegal immigrant camps this year, and dismantled about 30 human smuggling rings. But he also said the center-right government would offer what he called an 'individual solution' for each immigrant. Those who refused to leave France voluntarily or apply for asylum would be forcibly expelled.

But immigrant-rights advocates like Vincent Lenoir argue the government is merely displacing its illegal immigration problem - not solving it. Lenoir works for an association called Salam, which helps the Calais immigrants.

Lenoir told French radio immigrants are not just located near Calais, but scattered along the French coast, seeking ways to reach Britain. He said they are living in deplorable conditions. Dismantling the Calais camp will simply make their lives more difficult.

This is not the first time the French government has cracked down on illegal immigrants near Calais. In 2002, authorities shut down a similar camp known as Sangatte. Many of the illegal immigrants living there simply moved down the coast.