PARIS, March 3 Charities expressed outrage on
Friday as the mayor of French port Calais, which has symbolised
Europe's refugee crisis, signed a ban on gatherings that could
stop aid groups distributing meals to migrants and refugees.
A decree published on Thursday said the Calais authority
believed that handing out meals at the site of the former
"jungle" migrant camp was one reason for a rise in ethnic
tensions and conflict between rival groups of migrants.
The decree, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, said
food distribution by charities had led to large numbers of
people gathering at the site of the now-closed camp, with fights
breaking out and risks posed to the safety of local residents.
It did not expressly ban food distribution, but said it was
"necessary to ban all gatherings" at the site and banned people
from entering it. The decree said gatherings tended to take
place "after the distribution of meals to migrants".
The office of Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, a member of
conservative party The Republicans who signed off on the decree,
could not be reached for comment on Friday.
A spokeswoman for the regional prefecture had no comment.
Human rights groups criticised the move, with some saying
they would still hand out food to migrants and refugees.
"You're talking about young people and children. You just
can't deprive them of food," said Gael Manzi, who works for
local aid association Utopia 56.
Manzi said Utopia 56 would continue to distribute food, but
at a new site elsewhere in Calais.
Last month, non-government associations said hundreds of
migrant children had been returning to Calais, despite the
dismantling of the "jungle" camp late last year.
The influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle
East and Africa is a key issue in France's upcoming presidential
election, with many voters concerned about competition for
scarce jobs, security, and the risk of further terror attacks.
Police forces are still deployed permanently in the area
where the "jungle" camp stood.
Migrants have been streaming into Calais for much of the
last decade, hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain
by leaping onto trucks and trains, or even walking through the
railway tunnel under the English Channel to get to the UK.
(Reporting by Matthias Blamont and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by
Andrew Callus and Catherine Evans)