France begins dismantling Sangatte refugee center

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By Paul Michaud, Special to Arab News

Published — Sunday 15 December 2002

Last Update 15 December 2002 3:00 am

PARIS, 15 December 2002 — Two weeks before its final closure, the Sangatte refugee center at Calais is already being dismantled, with most of its 1,700 former inhabitants well on their way to Great Britain. The facility, which technically belongs to Eurotunnel and was used by that company to house equipment and men as it was building the Channel Tunnel, is scheduled to be razed, with its memory, at least in the eyes of French authorities, soon hopefully a thing of the past.

As for the several hundred refugees who continue to mill about the center, indeed around the Church of Saints Peter and Paul which had once housed some of them, a local charitable association says that it’s doing what it can to come to their assistance. A spokesman for Secours Catholique says it’s set up a sanitary facility where the refugees who missed the boat to Great Britain can wash and freshen up, as well as a depository where they can acquire new clothes or at least change the ones they now have.

The final destination of the refugees who are often whisked away at night in anonymous government buses, is, for that matter, being kept top secret, this in an effort to keep away the international press that arrived by the hundreds, and is still present by the dozens, that wouldn’t mind having another story to do on the plight of the thousands of Iraqi and Afghans, Romanians, Bulgarians and Chinese who found themselves in the headlines of the major world press the past several weeks as France attempted to work out with Great Britain a solution to a problem that had last lasted more than two years.

Meanwhile, the several French cities that have been contacted by national authorities with a request that they become the sites of new refugee detention centers that are to replace Sangatte, none of them — whether in Montauban-de-Bretagne or Dinan, two of the communities targeted by authorities — has yet been willing to accept the idea of becoming a “Sangatte II,” as the idea is being codenamed by local officials.

Only Thursday, the mayor of Guichen-Pont-Rean, a small village in the Ille-et-Vilaine department not far away from Cherbourg, a major access point to Great Britain, let it be known as that as far as he’s concerned, his community wants nothing to do with becoming a new transit facility for refugees who’ve let it be known that Great Britain still remains their final destination come hell or high water.

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