CALAIS, France – Taking no chances, Belgium temporarily imposed border controls Tuesday to fend off a feared wave of migrants as a French court pondered whether to allow the evacuation of a muddy, makeshift migrant camp in Calais.
The northern port city of Calais, where anti-migrant tensions have been building, has become a flashpoint in Europe’s immigration crisis. The approximately 4,000 migrants in the sprawling camp, who all want to sneak across the English Channel to Britain, were facing an expulsion order to leave by Tuesday night or face a forced evacuation.
A Lille administrative court, however, said it would not render a decision on the Calais camp until Wednesday or Thursday. The judge hearing the case toured part of the camp on Tuesday.
The Calais ferry port and the Eurotunnel rail service there makes the city an ideal point for entering Britain covertly. However, tightened security has forced migrants – often guided by smugglers – to hitch rides on trucks along the coast, or cross the border to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
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But Belgian Interior Minister Jan Jambon said his nation told the European Union it will temporarily impose border controls, using up to 290 police a day to make sure no migrant camps are set up in Belgium and to keep migrants from slipping aboard Britain-bound ships in Zeebrugge.
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“We will guard the border in strategic locations which are known by police to be potential smuggling routes,” Jambon said.
French authorities announced Feb. 12 that the huge southern swath of the camp on the edge of Calais must be razed. The state says up to 1,000 migrants live there but advocates put the number at more than 3,000, including hundreds of children.
French officials say the migrants must move either to heated containers installed last month behind the camp or to centres around France and rethink plans to get to Britain.