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Truckers block Calais to demand closure of migrant camp

Jack Taylor | Getty Images

Hundreds of truckers in big rigs, farmers in tractors and dockers and merchants on foot blocked a major highway in northern France on Monday to demand the closure of the Calais migrant camp known as the "jungle."

Local authorities are urging travelers to avoid the area in hopes of limiting disruptions from the Monday blockade, aimed at paralyzing traffic on the route used to access Britain via the Eurotunnel and port.

Tensions have increased as the population of the camp has risen to at least 7,000 migrants from the Middle East and Africa, who are trying to reach Britain. The upsurge has come even though authorities have tightened security and closed half of the camp, epitomizing the challenges of Europe's migrant crisis.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced Friday that the government would dismantle the camp "in a controlled operation" as soon as possible, but protesters want him to set a date.

Truckers are frustrated by migrants' attempts to hop into their vehicles to slip across the English Channel, and local businesses say the migrants have become an economic drain on the city and a stain on its image.

"We are fed up with the migrant situation in Calais. They are increasingly aggressive," said French trucker Blaise Paccou. "We leave in the morning. We don't know how we're going to return in the evening because of the rocks and metal bars being thrown at us."

Migrants have resorted in recent months to increasingly dangerous tactics to slow trucks so they can hop in the back, throwing tree branches and other objects onto the roadway, a risk for truckers and themselves. Seven migrants have been killed on the road this year.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, who backs the protesters, insisted on BFM TV that public order in Calais must be restored.

Some 2,000 police have been sent to Calais to protect the entrances to the Eurotunnel and port — important economic links — and chase migrants off the roads, often with tear gas.

The local administration issued a statement Sunday urging people to avoid non-essential travel to the Calais area throughout the day as trucks and tractors reached the port roadway, while hundreds of protesters arrived on foot.

Aid groups warn that a hasty shutdown of the camp would scatter the migrants, aggravate the city's troubles and worsen the humanitarian drama. While the camp conditions are dismal, migrants have access to food distribution and showers. The majority of makeshift shops and restaurants have been closed by authorities who want to destroy all 72. The state is appealing a court ruling saying the commerce cannot be destroyed.

The government says about 7,000 migrants live in the camp, while aid groups estimate the population at more than 9,000.