French police fired tear gas and water cannons on protesters defending migrants in the northern city of Calais as the government prepares to shut down the city’s notorious migrant camp.
The demonstrators – including activists from migrant support groups, a far-left presidential candidate and migrants themselves – defied a ban by authorities on Saturday’s protest. The protesters say they are expressing solidarity with the migrants, who face imminent expulsion from the camp.
Hundreds of people came in by bus from other cities, and were met by police, who used tear gas to disperse them and keep them from marching into the city center.
Five police officers and a journalist sustained light injuries, Interior Ministry said in a statement. Regional official Vincent Berton said the demonstrators were throwing stones at police and the protest had been forbidden because ”the situation is already tense.”
President Francois Hollande has pledged to close the Calais camp by the end of the year and transfer thousands of migrants around France while their asylum cases are examined.
The camp, with thousands of people living in crude and lawless conditions, has become a flashpoint in Europe’s migrant crisis, and a symbol of Hollande’s government’s failures to find a solution for those who converge here in hopes of getting to Britain.
Conservative candidates seeking to unseat Hollande in elections next year have visited Calais to call for a crackdown on the migrants.
Philippe Poutoux, presidential hopeful from the small, far-left New Anti-Capitalist Party, came to Calais on Saturday ”to affirm the exact opposite.” He called for emergency care for the migrants, and for ”simple and natural solidarity toward these people who suffer and who are victims of slaughters, of wars.”