Police clear major migrant camp in northern France

Northern France has long been a magnet for people seeking to smuggle themselves to Britain. (File/AFP)
Updated 17 September 2019

Police clear major migrant camp in northern France

  • The mayor of Grande-Synthe in December 2018 opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold
  • Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp, with around 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the crammed gymnasium

GRANDE-SYNTHE, France: French police began clearing around 1,000 migrants from a gymnasium near the northern port of Dunkirk on Thursday after a court ruled it was a health and security hazard.
The mayor of Grande-Synthe in December 2018 opened up the sports hall to migrant families seeking shelter from the cold.
Since then, it has grown into a makeshift camp, with around 800 people sleeping in tents pitched around the crammed gymnasium where around 170 people, mostly Iraqi Kurds hoping to reach Britain, had been sheltering.
Thursday’s clearance operation began shortly after 8:00 am (0600 GMT).
Young men traveling alone were the first to board buses that will take them to shelters around the region, where they can apply for asylum.
Families were to be moved later.
Northern France has long been a magnet for people seeking to smuggle themselves to Britain in the tens of thousands of trucks and cars that travel daily between the countries on ferries and trains.
The area around Grande-Synthe has traditionally drawn Iraqi Kurds and has been repeatedly cleared in recent years.
A court in the regional city of Lille ordered the gymnasium shut on September 4 following complaints from local authorities and residents about violence, garbage and the presence of people-smugglers among the migrants.
French authorities have had a policy of trying to prevent migrants forming camps since 2016 when they razed a notorious illegal squat nicknamed the “Jungle” near the port of Calais which was home to 10,000 people at its height.
But rights groups have criticized police tactics.
In December, the country’s human rights ombudsman denounced the “extreme destitution” suffered by people camping out or sleeping under bridges in the area.
The ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, accused the authorities of “trying to make (migrants) invisible” by regularly tearing down their camps without providing them with viable alternatives.
French President Emmanuel Macron has pledged to speed up the asylum claims process for people deemed to be bona fide refugees, while vowing to accelerate the deportation procedure for so-called economic migrants.


Trump sends $4.5 million aid to Syria’s White Helmets: White House

Updated 22 October 2019

Trump sends $4.5 million aid to Syria’s White Helmets: White House

  • Trump ordered the funds for what is formally known as the Syria Civil Defense group
  • The White Helmets have received global recognition for dashing into heavy bombing to pull victims from the rubble

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump has authorized $4.5 million in aid for Syria’s White Helmets group, famed for rescuing wounded civilians from the frontlines in the civil war, the White House said Tuesday.
Trump ordered the funds for what is formally known as the Syria Civil Defense group “to continue United States support for the organization’s important and highly valued work in the country,” spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
The White Helmets have received global recognition for dashing into heavy bombing to pull victims from the rubble and get them to hospitals, which themselves have frequently been bombed or shelled.
The Syrian military, which is backed by Russia, has repeatedly targeted White Helmets activists, saying they are not independent but support anti-government insurgents.
Trump’s humanitarian gesture came amid a firestorm of criticism at home and abroad over his abrupt decision to withdraw a small but politically signficant contingent of US troops from Kurdish areas near Syria’s border with Turkey.
The withdrawal effectively opened the door for Turkey to launch a cross-border operation against the Kurds. Turkey sees them as a security threat but until now they had been a crucial ally of the US troops in fighting jihadist militants with the Daesh movement.