French police evacuate 557 migrants from makeshift camp

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French police officers evacuate migrants from a makeshift camp in Grand-Synthe, near Dunkirk, northern France, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. The prefecture of the Nord region said that 240 people had been evacuated from the camp so far, and the operation was continuing. (AP Photo)

PARIS (AP) — French police encircled a makeshift migrant camp in a wooded area near Dunkirk on Tuesday, evacuating 557 people, the prefecture of the Nord region said.

It was the second such operation in two days in northern France, where asylum-seekers and migrants gather in hopes of making it across the English Channel to Britain.

Sixty children were among the hundreds of people removed from the camp, which was located in a clearing in the Grande-Synthe region outside Dunkirk. Seven of them had been living on their own and were turned over to a youth association, the prefecture said.

Police detained 16 other people, the prefecture said in a statement without elaborating.

Migrants have been staying in the Puythouck area since an official camp of wooden shelters housing some 1,500 migrants burned to the ground in April.

Aid groups and journalists at the scene were not allowed to enter the clearing during the eight or so hours police were removing people.

Claire Millot, a member of the aid group Salam, which has been bringing food to the migrants, said at least 400 migrants were staying in the camp before the clearing operation.

Many are Afghans and Iraqi Kurds, but there are also Iranians, Pakistanis and Sudanese. Millot said by telephone that with no toilets and only four water faucets, conditions in the camp were deplorable. But she predicted that “they’ll come back.”

“They’re living in mud, (with) some people in situations of extreme fragility, children, elderly,” said Eric Etienne, a Dunkirk official. “We can’t leave them in this situation.”

Grande-Synthe Mayor Damien Careme has said the region needed another official shelter to prevent migrants from living in the degrading conditions of the Puythouck camp.

But Interior Minister Gerard Collomb rejected the opening of a new camp after meeting with Careme in Paris Monday. In a statement, Collomb said such a move would feed the hope of getting to Britain, promoted “by smugglers who must be fought with utmost firmness.”

President Emmanuel Macron has said ending the migrant crisis was a priority and that he wants migrants off France’s streets and byways by the end of the year.

Some 85 Eritrean migrants were evacuated on Monday from a camp in the nearby town of Norrent-Fontes “under the control of smugglers,” a statement by the prefect of the Pas-de-Calais region said.

A huge makeshift camp in Calais, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) west of Dunkirk, was emptied of at least 7,000 migrants in a mass operation in October.

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