PAS-DE-CALAIS, FRANCE – Demolition workers tore down more makeshift shelters in France’s grim “Jungle” migrant camp Tuesday, as Greece pleaded for EU aid to help shelter thousands of refugees stuck in misery at its border.
In the northern French port city of Calais, tensions were high as officials for a second day razed part of the Jungle camp, which has become a magnet for people hoping to reach Britain.
Some sat on the roofs of their shacks, covered in blankets against the driving rain and freezing wind in a bid to stop their temporary homes from being pulled apart.
Officials were going around trying to persuade inhabitants to leave of their own volition and move to better accommodations provided for them, but many refused, fearing it will take them further from their goal of reaching Britain.
There was no repeat of the violent clashes that erupted on Monday, but some remained defiant in the face of the bulldozers.
“We have already seen prison and torture, this doesn’t scare us,” a migrant told one of the teams.
Officials say the demolition will affect between 800 and 1,000 people, although charities working there say there are more than 3,450 people in the southern half, including 300 unaccompanied children.
One Sudanese migrant, Nureen, watched as the destruction moved gradually toward his makeshift home. He had been told to leave by Wednesday morning.
“Unfortunately, we cannot fight the police,” he said. “There is nothing for us to do. We will just be left in the cold winter.”
The late winter freeze brought similar misery to Greece’s border with Macedonia, the latest flash-point in Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II, which many fear poses a threat to the very core of the European project.
Athens said Tuesday it had requested nearly half a billion euros in emergency funds from the European Union to help shelter 100,000 refugees.
More than 7,000 people have been stuck on the border after Balkan states imposed a daily limit on the number of migrants allowed to enter.
Bleak scenes saw the refugees stranded in mud-soaked fields, freezing after their tents were drenched overnight, and fighting over food distributed from the back of a van.
“We have been waiting for six days,” said Farah, a 32-year-old Syrian, as a van distributing canned food and long-life milk was quickly mobbed and emptied in minutes.
“The food is not enough, everyone is lying to us and we are desperate,” she said.
The grim situation has seen increasing criticism of countries that have set caps on the number of migrants they are willing to let in, as many buckle under the strain of a flood of people fleeing poverty and war in Africa and the Middle East — notably Syria.
The U.N. said over 131,000 migrants had crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe so far this year, more than the total number for the first five months of 2015.
The EU lashed out at Macedonian police for tear-gassing desperate refugees who tried to force their way across the Macedonian border on Monday, saying it was “not our idea of managing the crisis.
In a bid to ease some of the deep divisions that have emerged over the crisis, EU President Donald Tusk set off Tuesday on a tour that will take him to Vienna and the Balkan states, as well as Turkey, the main departure point for refugees, where he will press for “a more intensive engagement” from the government.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country registered 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015, lashed out at the border restrictions springing up in the Balkans, saying they risked plunging debt-ridden Greece into chaos.
Her government said Tuesday that it had agreed to speed up the repatriation of rejected asylum-seekers from North Africa in a bid to ease the political pressure on Germany.
U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also denounced the growing border restrictions as “an act of cruelty,” saying desperate refugees were facing a “rising roar of xenophobia” instead of compassion.
Despite the criticism, countries in the firing line were standing firm.
“We cannot take in hundreds of thousands of people. We are not Germany’s waiting room,” Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann told Heute daily.
“It cannot be that people are just waved through Greece, Macedonia and Croatia and that Austria does the EU’s job of sharing them around.”