U.K. to build wall in France to keep migrants out

Child runs in the Calais refugee camp. (engagejoe/flickr)

The U.K. government announced that it will spend £1.9 million to construct a wall in the French port city of Calais to prevent migrants from sneaking aboard trucks and vessels crossing the English Channel. The 13-foot-high wall would try to keep the roughly 5,000 migrants and refugees living in the camp out of the U.K.

“The security that we are putting in at the port is being stepped up with better equipment,” said Home Office Minister Robert Goodwill, in public remarks to the Home Affairs Committee of members of Parliament. “We are going to start building this big new wall very soon. We’ve done the fence; now we are doing a wall.”

The project has already been dubbed the “Great Wall of Calais” by the Daily Mail. Critics say that it is a waste of money. Aid groups warned that the wall will not deter people from attempting to enter the U.K. – it will likely force them to take more dangerous routes, making a bad problem worse.

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“A wall will simply further empower smugglers by forcing people to take even greater risks to get across the channel,” said Steve Symonds, director of the refugee program for Amnesty U.K., in a statement.

The camp, better known as ‘the jungle,’ is situated alongside the main trucking route to the city’s port. A roughly 1-km-long wall would extend on both sides of the road near the camp to prevent people from jumping onto trucks or harassing the truck drivers. The construction project is a part of a £17 million package negotiated between France and the U.K. earlier this year. The announcement was intended to show that Prime Minister Theresa May was following through on promises made by her predecessor David Cameron.

Goodwill said the fence currently situated along the road is not keeping people from getting to the road. The new barrier would have a smooth wall designed to prevent people from climbing over. Even if that works, it may not change the flow of migrants.

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“When will politicians learn? Walls and fences don’t stop people moving, they just shift their route,” tweeted the refugees and migrant program for Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

Truck drivers protested against the camp earlier this week. They said that people are severely disrupting their work – throwing stones at trucks, creating road blocks and sneaking onto moving trucks. News reports on the camps have shown the tactics migrants and refugees use to smuggle into the U.K. The drivers demanded the closure of the camp in order to ensure their safety. Officials tried to allay the concerns, citing the current preventive measures being installed, the wall being the most significant and controversial of the tactics.

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About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.