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Truck Drivers Block Highway Near Calais, France, In Migrant Crisis Protest


Hundreds of truck drivers and farmers blocked the highway near Calais, France, today to protest the country's handling of the refugee and migrant crisis. Thousands of migrants are in a camp nearby known as the jungle. As some of the migrants look for ways to get to Britain, they've tried to slow down or stop trucks and board them.

The camp has been controversial for years because of its conditions and the uncertain future for those living there. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited the camp today. And, Eleanor, describe exactly what the protesters are calling for.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Well, the protesters say that the name Calais is now synonymous with this squatters' camp. They say tourism is down, investment is non-existent and the economy is being hurt. Dockworkers and truckers say it's dangerous now. They're trying to fight off stowaways. And even farmers, Audie, say migrants hide in their fields and trample crops and fences. And one farmer talked about a cow even drowned. Today, they have asked an end be put to this situation. They virtually brought a four-lane highway to a standstill with huge tractors and trucks, and they had a barbecue out there. It was very strange.

CORNISH: How is the French government responding?

BEARDSLEY: The government says it is going to gradually empty this camp. But it partially dismantled the camp last February, and it continues to grow. Humanitarian groups say there may be as many as 10,000 people there now. The government says it's going to find places for these people around France, but no one believes them anymore.

CORNISH: You've reported on this camp before. What did you see today and how does that compare to the last couple of years?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Audie, it's sort of the same thing, although part of it has been taken down, but it keeps growing. They're keeping the refugees from bringing in building materials and all the humanitarian groups helping them, so it's a lot more tree limbs with canvas and just tents in the dunes. And it's really very sad.

The people on both sides are blaming the French and British governments because they say they're stopping the refugees from having a legal solution. They're keeping them in limbo, so they have no choice but to go towards smugglers and to try to illegally pass. And, Audie, there are at least 100 children living there alone who actually have family members in Britain. And humanitarian groups say that the governments of France and Britain should make sure that they can get to Britain and join family members.

CORNISH: And are there any plans to alleviate the conditions there in the meantime?

BEARDSLEY: No, the government just wants to shut it down. And they say they'll find homes for these people, but there are maybe as many as 10,000. And it just doesn't look very possible at this point.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Calais, France. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.