French truckers block major highway in protest over Calais refugee camp

Hauliers and farmers want the 'Jungle' camp - which is home to thousands of migrants and refugees - to be demolished


People wave the French flag as others march on the A16 highway in support of a blockade around the port of Calais | Photo: PA Images

French hauliers, farmers and unionists are holding up traffic in Calais as part of a protest to get the "Jungle" migrant camp removed.

Demonstrators have blocked the A16 - the main route for freight and passengers heading to Britain either via the Channel Tunnel or the Calais port.

Business owners and Calais residents have also marched in protest, ahead of a planned "human chain" demonstration at the port city's Stadium de l'Epopee.

Some of the hauliers said that they would keep blocking the A16 until the French government commits to a date to break up the rest of the "Jungle".

Pressure has been growing on French authorities to tackle the camp, which has swelled in size in recent months, and talks took place between protest organisers and French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve on Friday.

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said lorry drivers have vowed they were "in it for the long haul" and will stand their ground until action to dismantle the "Jungle" camp begins.

RHA chief executive Richard Burnett said: "It seems certain that traffic crossing from the UK will find it almost impossible to leave the port as access to the A16 is denied.

"The inevitable repercussions of this will surely mean that the authorities on this side of the Channel will have no alternative but to deploy Operation Stack.

"This will bring yet further misery to hauliers bound for mainland Europe and of course for the people and businesses of Kent." 

A farmer walks as others drive their tractors to block the highway leading to Calais  | Photo: PA Images

Around 200 farmers are taking part in the protest - angry at migrant action which has apparently destroyed crops and caused extensive damage to farms in the area.

Up to 9,000 migrants from countries including Sudan, Syria and Eritrea are living in the "Jungle", despite efforts to reduce numbers by dismantling the southern section of the camp earlier this year.

People traffickers are reported to have resorted to extreme lengths in their efforts to reach the UK, torching vehicles, throwing petrol bombs and cutting down trees to block roads before threatening drivers with chainsaws and machetes.

Gangs are paid thousands of pounds by vulnerable migrants to get them to Calais, from where some are smuggled to Britain where they are forced to pay off huge debts to the traffickers.

Traffickers have even deliberately caused car crashes on roads leading to the Calais port by hurling large objects at cars, then stowing away on lorries caught up in traffic jams behind the accidents.

Meanwhile, people leaving Electric Picnic today are being encouraged to donate their tents and sleeping bags to refugees in Calais.

Donation points will be available at every campsite.

Róisín Garvey of Green-Schools is coordinating the plan, and spoke to Newstalk about the initiative: