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France dismantles Calais refugee camp, biggest since ‘the Jungle’

French police have dismantled a refugee camp that accommodated hundreds of people in the northern port city of Calais, the biggest such operation since the sprawling ‘Jungle’ camp was broken up in 2016.

The makeshift camp in Calais was home to about 700 to 800 people and the operation to evacuate the refugees there began shortly before sunrise on Tuesday.

“We want to avoid a concentration and a new gathering point in Calais,” said Louis Le Franc, the government’s top official at the northern Pas-de-Calais region, adding that about 150 of the evacuated refugees would be moved to reception centers in Pas-de-Calais, a further 150 to other regions in northern France, and the remaining 500 or so to other parts of the country.

The city has over the past years been used as a launch point for thousands of asylum seekers waiting to cross into the UK.

French authorities have vowed to avoid a repeat of the Jungle, which at one point hosted some 10,000 people, was grappling with problems such as overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions and food shortages.

Britain has mounted pressure on the government of French President Emmanuel Macron to do more to prevent refugees from leaving France. French authorities have stepped up patrols in order to stop the illegal passage of asylum seekers from the English Channel to British shores.

Since the beginning of the year, at least 1,317 refugees have been intercepted by French police as they tried to traverse one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in overloaded rubber dinghies.

The British government has denounced the high number of people who made the crossing as unacceptable.

Most of the refugees arriving in France, and Europe in general, are the nationals of Middle Eastern countries who have been displaced by conflict, often instigated by Western states.

Rights groups have blasted French police tactics in handling the crisis, which include seizing the refugees’ tents and other belongings.

In December 2018, France's human rights ombudsman said refugees and asylum seekers in northern France have been subjected to "unprecedented" violations of their basic rights.

The United Nations (UN)’s special rapporteur for housing also called on the French government to act on the “dire” living conditions of refugees sleeping rough in Calais.

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