Calais mayor introduces ban effectively blocking food distribution to migrants

French police examine the identity documents of migrants in Calais.

Story highlights

  • Calais mayor signs decree banning gatherings
  • Local aid groups say ban blocks food distribution to migrants

Paris (CNN)The mayor of Calais has signed a ban on gatherings that effectively prevents aid groups from distributing food to migrants and refugees still living in the French port city, which became a flashpoint in Europe's refugee crisis in 2015.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart, a member of the conservative Republican party, issued the decree to Calais authorities Thursday forbidding any public gatherings, arguing that food distribution to migrants in the area has led to "massive" crowds and heightened tensions.
    The decree is part of a campaign to prevent a new makeshift refugee camp from forming, just four months after the so-called "Jungle" camp was demolished.
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    Muhamed lived in the Jungle camp in Calais while trying to reach the UK, where his uncle lives.

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    "These past few days, a regular and massive presence of individuals was noticed in the industrial zone of Dunes. This presence was due to the distribution of food to migrants," Bouchart said in a statement.
    "I was alerted by the sector employees -- notably the business owners and the representatives of economic life -- that there had been some tensions between them and the volunteers and migrants during these distributions."
    "This is why I decided to make an order that forbids any gathering, so as to prevent any new public disturbance," she added.

    Charities 'appalled' at ban

    Aid groups involved in food distribution have slammed the move, criticizing officials for turning their backs on those fleeing violence and calling for the ban to be lifted.
    "We are appalled at the ban on distributing food to refugees in Calais, which deprives the most vulnerable people -- including unaccompanied minors -- of the basic human right to food," said Sue Jex, Head of UK Operations for the refugee support charity Care4Calais.
    "Refugees fleeing unthinkable violence at home continue to arrive in Calais every day, desperate for food and shelter but forced to live in inhumane conditions."
    She added: "We would urge those in positions of authority to lift bans on food distribution, and act now to secure the lives of refugees urgently."
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    Utopia 56, another volunteer organization that helps migrants in Calais, called the ban "a bad decision" and said it wouldn't prevent fights happening in the area.
    "This is inhumane, people are in danger. Besides, we do not only distribute food, we also give migrants sleeping bags," a Utopia 56 spokesperson told CNN. "I understand the inhabitants of Calais, but this is not a way to stop people from being aggressive: when you are hungry, you become aggressive."
    Utopia 56, along with the association L'Auberge des Migrants, distributed 200 meals on Thursday evening, flouting the decree.
    In a statement released by L'Auberge des Migrants, signed by Care4Calais, Utopia 56, and other aid groups, the association said that volunteers are doing this work because the State and other public bodies "do not respect" their own legal and humanitarian obligations to migrants.
    Authorities dismantled part of the "Jungle" camp in Calais last October, in a bid to stem the flow of migrants hoping to cross the Eurotunnel to the UK, just over 30 miles away.