A CHURCH and a mosque in the “Jungle” camp in Calais were bulldozed by the French authorities on Monday morning.
The demolition follows clearances to provide a 100-metre buffer zone between the camp and a motorway. At the end of January, the Prefect of Pas-de-Calais told Le Monde that he planned to evacuate the Jungle completely during the winter, and to offer a solution to each migrant.
The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Facebook: “My heart and prayers go out to these people whose places of worship were destroyed yesterday — in the very place they have come to seek refuge from ISIS and other persecutors.”
The church was constructed in October by a local pastor, Fabien Boinet, the La Vie news website said.
“Faith is something essential for them [the camp’s residents],” he said on Monday. “Already they don’t have much; now the possibility of gathering for prayer is taken from them. We aren’t against the authorities, we simply want the dignity of these people to be respected, and I believe that the right to exercise their faith is something fundamental.”
His claim that the authorities had promised that the church would be untouched was echoed by Caroline Gregory, a long-term volunteer who runs Christians for Calais.
Residents were unwilling to move into the collection of shipping containers provided by the authorities, which “looks like a concentration camp”, she said on Tuesday. “People [were] packed like sardines into containers, with no communal areas”. They were also afraid that doing so might force them to seek asylum in France. She had met only one person during her months in the camp who did not have close family living in the UK.
“The UK needs to let in all those with legitimate strong links to the UK, which, I have to say is lot of people there,” she said. It was a “myth” that they were economic migrants: she had seen scars, bullet wounds, and pictures of dead family members.
Last week, after a gun fight at Grand Synthe, near Dunkirk, David Michaux, an anti-riot officer from the UNSA police union, told Le Figaro of religious tensions.
“There is a real problem of Muslims and non-Muslims,” he said. “Most of the camp’s 3000-odd occupants are Muslim Kurds from Iraq, Iran, and Syria, but a minority are Christians from Iran. The Muslims are trying to expel the Christians from the camp.”
Other reports have attributed the violence to rival bands of smugglers. Phil Kerton, of Seeking Sanctuary, said on Monday that “tensions do run high. There have been reports of a violent incident a few days earlier, when a Christian pastor had called a group of young Iranian Muslims together to call them to come forward for baptism — a call which was answered by several, much to the concern of other residents.”
He also reported a “massive influx of Kurds” who “do not feel comfortable in the company of exiles of their oppressor nationality”. He had heard reports of Kurds threatening others who had been in the camp for longer periods: “This is also a source of tension, that can easily boil over into violence from the bored and hopeless people crowded into the appalling mudbath, in freezing weather.”
He expressed concern that a recent outbreak of measles was likely to prove fatal. A programme of vaccination has been started by volunteers.
Last week, David Cameron resisted calls to take unaccompanied refugee children who have fled to Europe, arguing that doing so would encourage thousands more to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in boats.
“Yes, we should take part in European schemes when it is in our interests to do so, and help to secure the external European border,” he said, “but we are out of Schengen, we keep our own borders, and under this Government that is the way it will stay.”
The Home Office confirmed on Thursday that it will work with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to identify “exceptional cases” of children in Syria and neighbouring countries who are in immediate need of shelter. The Government has not identified how many will be accepted, or given a timescale.
At least 10,000 unaccompanied child-refugees have disappeared after registering with state authorities in Europe, Europol reported on Saturday. There are fears that many may have become the victims of traffickers.