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90 seconds news round-up

The latest Africa news, including Mauritius's feud with the UK, Guinea's election fallout and the Hague trial of an ex-CAR rebel leader.

Mauritius

Britain was dealt another defeat in its ongoing dispute with Mauritius over the Chagos Islands last month, after a UN court ruled that it has no sovereignty over the archipelago.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLS) criticised the UK’s failure to hand the isolated territory to Mauritius, following an earlier ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and a vote in the UN General Assembly that called on the UK to ‘decolonise’ the island chain by December 2019.

Officially referred to as the British Indian Ocean Territory, the archipelago was governed by Britain as part of Mauritius until Mauritian independence in 1968.

Speaking after the ruling, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said: ‘The UK has no doubt as to our sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT), which has been under continuous British sovereignty since 1814. Mauritius has never held sovereignty over the BIOT and the UK does not recognise its claim.’

However, the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, said the judgement was ‘clear and unequivocal’, in an interview with the BBC, adding: ‘Mauritius is sovereign over the Chagos Archipelago.’

Though Britain refutes its former colony and Commonwealth ally’s claims over the Chagos Islands, it has repeatedly offered to cede the chain to Mauritius once it is no longer needed by the US military, which leases an air force base from Britain on the main atoll, Diego Garcia.

The strategically important base, used in air strikes against Afghanistan, was built by the US following a secret pact with the UK in the 1960s. As part of the agreement, Britain forcibly removed the small population living on Diego Garcia – dubbed ‘migrants’ despite having lived in the Chagos for generations – and resettled them in Mauritius.

Elderly Chagossians have campaigned for decades to return to Diego Garcia, but have been repeatedly refused permission, despite several court rulings to the contrary.

Though Mauritius is supportive of the islanders’ return to Diego Garcia, it is keen to placate Washington’s fears over the dispute. Prime Minister Jugnauth told the BBC: ‘The end of UK administration has no implications for the US military base at Diego Garcia, which Mauritius is committed to maintaining.’

 

Guinea

The fallout from Guinea’s bloody presidential elections is continuing, after opposition politician Oumar Sylla was sentenced to 11 months in prison late last month.

Convicted for ‘disturbing public order’, the outspoken critic of President Alpha Conde pledged to continue his fight against the disputed October 2020 ballot as he was led away from court.

Sylla was arrested in September 2020 during presidential campaigning. He claimed to have been knocked off a motorcycle and kidnapped by a group wearing civilian clothes, as well as one in uniform.

His conviction follows those earlier in the month of two other opposition figures, Souleymane Conde and Youssouf Dioubate, who were each sentenced to a year in prison for inciting an insurrection. They were also fined almost $2,000 each.

Hundreds of President Conde’s opponents have been arrested since the polls and are still in jail awaiting trial. Four opposition members have died while in detention, including Roger Bamba.

The government said the opposition spokesman died after an illness, but his family insisted he had been poisoned.

President Conde, who is 82 years old, won a third term in office after a change to Guinea’s constitution allowed him to side-step a two-term limit on power.

 

South Africa

The country’s highest court has ordered Jacob Zuma to appear before a corruption tribunal after the former South African president walked out of proceedings in November.

The anti-graft commission is investigating allegations of corruption and fraud between Zuma and several public and private companies.

South Africa’s Constitutional Court said in a judgement posted on Twitter that the commission has the power to compel witnesses to appear before it, and failure to obey would be a breach of law.

It added that the former president did not have a right to remain silent when called to give testimony.

The former African National Party (ANC) leader was ousted as president in a party coup in 2018, a year before his second term was due to end.

The inquiry was set up in the same year to investigate the corruption claims that overshadowed Zuma’s presidency.

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The government has been plunged into turmoil after parliament passed a vote of no-confidence in the prime minister.

MPs in in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) voted to remove Prime Minister Sylvestre Ilunga Ilunkamba in January, following a months-long power struggle between President Felix Tshisekedi and allies of his predecessor Joseph Kabila. Tshisekedi and his predecessor have headed a fragile coalition government since January 2019.

The departure of Ilunkamba – a key ally of the Kabila – provides President Tshisekedi with a chance to appoint loyalists to key ministries. The vote was boycotted by Kabila’s allies, who claimed the interim speaker of parliament did not have the authority to oversee a motion of no confidence under the constitution.

Joseph Kabila ruled the DRC for 18 years before being forced to cede both the presidency and a handful of senior government positions to the opposition in January 2019.

The son of former president Laurent-Desire Kabila, who was assassinated by a bodyguard in 2001, Kabila lost the December 2018 presidential vote to Tshisekedi, who had campaigned on a pledge to fight corruption, reduce inequalities and improve government.

Despite running the country together for two years, Tshisekedi has made it clear he thinks the agreement isn’t working, and blamed Kabila’s allies, who make up two-thirds of the 65-member coalition government, for thwarting reforms.

In response, the president is said to be in the process of launching a new political alliance, known as the Sacred Union, which will consist of up to 20 parties.

 

Nigeria

A Nigerian teenager jailed for insulting the Prophet Mohammed has had his conviction squashed.

The boy, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last August for sending a ‘blasphemous’ WhatsApp group message, had his case overturned on January 21 by the appellate division of the Kano State High Court.

Judges threw out the conviction after it emerged the youngster, who claims to be 13, had not been given legal representation at his first trial.

A Sharia court had convicted Omar Farouq, whom it claimed was 17 years old, after the youngster allegedly used foul language that broke the state’s strict blasphemy regulations during an argument with a friend.

Blasphemy carries the death sentence under Kano State’s Sharia Penal Code.

In a separate judgment, the Kano court also overturned the death penalty handed out to music studio assistant Yahaya Sharif-Aminu for insulting the Prophet Mohammed.

The recording by the 22-year-old was widely shared on social media, causing outrage in the highly conservative, Muslim-majority state.

Sharif-Aminu’s case has been returned to the Sharia court for a retrial due to procedural irregularities. His lawyer Kola Alapinni said he would appeal the decision.

‘Both cases have similar facts and the same judge. Why is one defendant free and not the other?’ he told CNN.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s country director Osai Ojigho welcomed Farouq’s release, adding: ‘He should not have been convicted in the first [place].’

Like Alapinni, she rallied behind Sharif-Aminu, saying: ‘We reiterate our stance that Aminu Yahaya Shariff should be given a fair hearing.’

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has called on the Nigerian government to stop the retrial.

Worryingly for Sharif-Aminu, though, Kano’s State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, is reported to have told clerics in August that he would sign the singer’s death warrant as soon as he had exhausted the appeals process.

 

Central African Republic

A former rebel leader is due to stand trial at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. Mahamat Said Abdel Kani was arrested in the Bria region of the Central African Republic in January and flown to the Netherlands, where he is due to be tried for crimes against humanity.

Said, 50, was a commander of the Séléka militia group that overthrew President François Bozizé in 2013. His forces are accused of killing civilians during the assault on the capital, Bangui.

The Central African Republic has been consumed by violence since a coalition of mostly northern Muslim rebels, known as Séléka, toppled Bozizé in March 2013.

The brutal coup gave rise to several anti-Séléka Christian militias in the south of the country, some of whose leaders also face ICC charges.

Violence between rival Muslim and Christian militias has left thousands dead in the CAR and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

Speaking before Said’s transfer to the Netherlands, the ICC’s Gambia-born prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: ‘I welcome today’s transfer of the suspect, Mr Mahamat Said Abdel Kani, to face justice for his alleged crimes as charged before the ICC. My office will relentlessly pursue justice for the victims of atrocities in the Central African Republic, irrespective of which side of the conflict they may be on.’

Only a limited number of people will be allowed into the Dutch courtroom, due to on-going Covid-19 health measures in the country.

However, Said’s trial is expected to be broadcast live on the ICC website in French, English and Sango.

African migration: an unstoppable human tide

Following Nato’s toppling of Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become the main gateway for migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East attempting to get to Europe. Having created a lawless space replete with arms and trigger-happy militias, European leaders face a difficult task trying to turn back the tide. Hawwa Adam looks back at six years of a worsening crisis

A few months after the Nato-backed overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in February 2011, reports went round the world of a humanitarian crisis on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a rocky outcrop in the Mediterranean that had become inundated with people fleeing the war in Libya.

Closer to Africa than Europe, Lampedusa had been a target for economic migrants for some time following tighter security at other European entry points, particularly the Morocco to Spain route. In 2009, in response to Italian concerns, Gaddafi agreed to tighten up security along his country’s  1,400km coastline  in return for Italian patrol boats and a radar system to monitor Libya’s desert borders. Many of those caught trying to leave the country were detained and the number of migrants arriving in Lampedusa virtually dried up. The conflict in Libya meant that this deal was now in shreds. Boatload after boatload began to brave the perilous 300k journey across the Med until at one point refugees on the island outnumbered its population of 5,000.

“In just one 72 hour period, 1,200 refugees landed here,” Tomaso della Longa, spokesperson for Lampedusa’s 24-strong Italian Red Cross station, told me when I visited the island in April that year. “At its peak there were up to 7,000. It was an impossible situation.”

Many drowned on the way as their rickety, overloaded boats capsized in rough seas.  On the day I arrived in Lampedusa, the Italian press was full of the horrifying news that more than 250 people, including women and children, had perished in the early hours of the morning after their boat capsized in rough seas about 50km from the island.

An Italian patrol boat and a fishing boat later rescued 50 people but waves four metres high hampered the operation. “My 24-year-old girlfriend died, and I lost my friend who was travelling with us,” said Peter Hougot, 29, from Cameroon from a bed in Lampedusa’s only clinic. Two Eritrean women who had been among those rescued – one was pregnant, the other widowed by the shipwreck – were later flown to the Sicilian capital Palermo for treatment. 

As I explored the island, it was easy to see the evidence of earlier disasters from the shoreline as wreckage bobbed up and down in the deceptively calm waters. Then I spotted a boat being escorted into Lampedusa port by the coastguard. On board were 243 men, women and babes in arms and it seemed like a miracle that their combined weight alone had not sunk the wooden vessel as it moved low through the waters. 

Having been at sea for three days with limited food and water they were a forlorn and sorry sight, and a few had to be carried away on stretchers by the Italian Red Cross. Among them were Nigerians, Ivorians, Sudanese, Eritreans and Bangladeshis who had taken advantage of the plentiful jobs in Libya, which until then had the highest standard of living per capita in Africa. 

Many like Osez Joseph from Warri in southeastern Nigeria had fled from the port city of Misurata that had been devastated by Nato airstrikes and armed Predator drones. Joseph worked there as a painter for two years and he reckoned it was far safer to risk the open seas than stay behind. “If I had stayed I would have probably been killed,” he said standing unsteadily on the quayside, dazed but remarkably calm.

Having managed to make landfall his luck continued as the Italian authorities, pressured to clear the island of the thousands of refugees who had been forced to sleep rough on the beaches and clifftops in the weeks before, rolled out an action plan that saw all the boat people being swiftly evacuated by plane to refugee camps in Sicily.

Six months later, Joseph would ring me to say that after being taught Italian and given ‘stay’ papers as an asylum seeker he had been transferred to a hostel in Rome and was now looking for work. His ultimate plan was to save money and travel to the UK, where he had relatives.  

At the time, the “tsunami humano” was thought to be as bad as it could get, an unfortunate fall out from a brief war that could be sorted out with a well planned evacuation and settlement programme. It proved to be anything but as the folly of Nato’s intervention quickly became clear. With Gaddafi gone, Libya has become one of the most dangerous places on the planet where rival militias fight against a government that is only nominally in control. The low level civil war has caused a humanitarian crisis, with a half million Libyans displaced, and a breakdown in the economy and the judicial system.

Amid an atmosphere of lawlessness, where practically every young man has a gun, foreign nationals in particular have become the targets of armed gangs who double up as people smugglers, charging anywhere from $750 to $3,500 apiece for a place on a boat to Italy. In most cases the vessels are unseaworthy and overloaded. The smugglers provide barely enough fuel to make it to international waters, and then abandon the boats and their passengers to their fate.

Neighbouring countries have imposed more stringent entry requirements to prevent the anarchy in Libya from spilling over, leaving foreigners trapped there with no alternative but to escape by sea.

The situation has been aggravated by the emergence of the country’s very own branch of Islamic State. Its televised beheading of 21 Coptic Christian construction workers from Egypt two years ago was an indication of its ruthlessness as it attempted to establish a caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean. 

A report by Amnesty International in 2015 revealed how foreign nationals in Libya were subject to routine kidnappings, rape, beatings and torture. “It was not the police [who kidnapped me]. Anyone is the police in Libya. They all have arms,” said Ibrahim from Gambia, one of the 70 people interviewed for Libya is full of cruelty.

It described how most migrants are handed over to criminal gangs as soon as they enter Libya at the country’s southern borders or in major transit cities. At times, the smugglers themselves hold the migrants and refugees in remote areas in the desert forcing them to call their families to pay a ransom.

Such is the anarchy in Libya that abuse also takes place in government-run detention centres with impunity. Two women who were eventually released from one reported being beaten, raped and sexually assaulted by male guards.

Racism and anti-Christian sentiment fuel the violence.  “Libya is full of cruelty,” said a Nigerian who used to work at a carwash. “It is not hospitable to foreigners, especially to black men. They see us as slaves. Area boys would come to molest and harass me in my house. They would beat me up.

“Any Libyan boss will ask you if you are Muslim or Christian. If you say you are Christian, then you are in trouble.”

The fall out from the civil war in Syria has created an even bigger refugee crisis. At one point, an estimated one million people fleeing Syria attempted to enter Europe by crossing the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece, making up 87 percent of those who crossed the waters into Europe.

Claiming its governments were unable to cope with the exodus, the EU struck a deal with Turkey last year agreeing that every person arriving irregularly in Turkey en route for the Greek islands would be turned back. This dramatically reduced the numbers of  asylum-seekers, many of whom decided to head the other way to Libya.

Today, Libya has become the major gateway to Europe for one of the largest flows of migrants and refugees in history. They hail from more than 12 countries across Africa, the Middle East and South Asia including Algeria, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Kenya, the Sudan region, Eritrea, Nigeria, Syria and Saudi Arabia. West and East Africans tend to be so-called economic migrants, while those from Somalia are fleeing continued unrest resulting from two decades of civil war and an Islamist insurgency led by al-Shabaab. The Eritreans, alongside Nigerians and Somalians among the largest group of arrivals, say they are trying to escape military conscription.

Keeping them out

It is estimated that since 2013, migration from Libya to Europe has quadrupled. “Libya is easier because it’s basically in a civil war, smugglers do what they want and police can’t stop them,” Gabriele Del Grande, author of the blog Fortress Europe, said. “And you can’t really coordinate with a non-existing government.”

In April the former head of the British embassy in Benghazi, Joe Walker-Cousins, warned that as many as one million migrants were already on their way to Libya. He said: “My informants in the area tell me there are potentially one million migrants, if not more, already coming up through the pipeline from central Africa and the Horn of Africa.”

According to its June figures, the International Organisation for Migration says about 1,650 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year, and that of the 71,029 migrants and refugees who have entered Europe by sea, 80 per cent arrived in Italy and half were women and children. 

The drownings have become so regular that they are no longer front page news. In mid-May two boats capsized in a 24-hour period between Libya and Italy, possibly leaving scores of refugees dead, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR. 

Barbara Molinario, of the UNHCR’s Italian branch, said the large numbers on board hampered rescue operations. “Usually nobody really knows the exact number of people on a boat like that [until you talk to the survivors],”she told Al Jazeera.

The Italian coastguard had released images of a wreck the day before in which at least five people died when the boat went over some 18 nautical miles off the Libyan coast. The blue fishing vessel, its deck heaving with people, capsized when passengers rushed to one side after spotting a rescue ship. They managed to call for help using a mobile phone. The navy said 562 people had been pulled to safety. In a second operation that day another 108 refugees were rescued from their dilapidated vessel.

“It takes at least three days from Libya to Italy and many more from Egypt. These are very dangerous routes and accidents are just waiting to happen,” Molinaro added. 

“Our position is that people who are forced to flee and cannot return home need to be given a safe means to get to Europe and ask for protection. If they are forced to risk their lives and turn to smugglers, then this is what’s going to happen.”

Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, has rebuked the international community for standing by and watching Libya “descend into chaos” since the 2011 NATO military campaign ended, “effectively allowing militias and armed groups to run amok”. 

“World leaders have a responsibility and must be prepared to face the consequences, which include greater levels of refugees and migrants fleeing conflict and rampant abuse in Libya. Asylum-seekers and migrants are among the most vulnerable people in Libya and their plight must not be ignored,” he said.

Unfortunately, his words are likely to have fallen on deaf ears. Western leaders have increasingly come to regard migrants as the agents of their own misfortune who would be better off staying where they are. They certainly see no connection between the countries they have interfered in and the refugee crisis.

During the first five months of 2015, European and NGO search and rescue operations were suspended amid claims they simply encourage more people to attempt the dangerous sea crossing. As a result, 1,800 people drowned. The deaths prompted fresh calls for Europe to reinstate full-scale search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean. Pope Francis, an outspoken advocate for greater European-wide participation in rescue efforts, reiterated his call for action during one of his Sunday masses. “They are men and women like us – our brothers seeking a better life, starving, persecuted, wounded, exploited, victims of war,” he said at the time.

The unspoken sentiment that migrants, however heartfelt their plight, are also a potential irritant, even a threat, runs through most official responses to the refugee crisis. In February EU leaders met in Malta in talks about further efforts to stop boat migration in the central Mediterranean, amid calls for a deal similar to the one struck between EU and Turkey last year. Those present were keen to respond to popular pressure at home for tougher immigration controls and agreed that Libya’s “unity” government – backed by the UN but opposed by two rival governments – would receive $215m to reinforce its coastguard and, more controversially, to set up refugee camps in southern Libya where people trying to reach Europe could be held and have their asylum claims processed.

Aid and human rights groups accused the EU of abandoning humanitarian values and misrepresenting conditions in Libya, where the UN-backed government of Fayez Seraj is not fully in control of the country. Médecins Sans Frontières, said: “Libya is not a safe place and blocking people in the country or returning them to Libya makes a mockery of the EU’s so-called fundamental values of human dignity and rule of law.”

Lawyers for Justice in Libya chief Elm Saudi added: “It is wrong for the EU to enter into an agreement with a country that has no concept of asylum and no refugee protection. The EU knows that torture, rape and killing occur in these camps.”

However, in a severe blow to the deal, Libya rejected a separate Italian-Libyan memorandum of understanding that was intended to allow Italy to train the Libyan coastguard to take a more active role by boarding ships and sending back refugees spotted in Libyan coastal waters. A document released by the justice ministry in Tripoli did not give a reason for the move, but the rival parliament declared the agreement to be “null and void”, saying the UN-backed government had “no legal status in the Libyan state”.

Although an appeal is being launched against the court ruling, the judgment has left the main thrust of the EU’s migrants policy in limbo. It is now seeking ways  of speeding up asylum processing in Italy, and to offer financial incentives to countries such as Nigeria to take back rejected asylum claimants. Nigeria would also be given a quota of visas for its workers to come to Europe. The number of Nigerians reaching Italy via Libya is said to have risen from 9,000 in 2014 to 37,550 in 2016. But many African countries are reluctant to prevent the flow of migrants to Europe partly due to the vast remittances migrants send back to their countries.

Again, there are hints that the search and rescue operations should be stopped. In April, Fabrice Leggeri, the head of the EU border agency, Frontex, called for them to be “re-evaluated” and accused NGOs of ineffectively cooperating with security agencies against human traffickers. “We must avoid supporting the business of criminal networks and traffickers in Libya through European vessels picking up migrants ever closer to the Libyan coast,” he told Germany’s Die Welt newspaper.

“This leads traffickers to force even more migrants on to unseaworthy boats with insufficient water and fuel than in previous years.”

Médecins Sans Frontières refuted the charges, saying they were “extremely serious and damaging”.

“What is the alternative but to let even more people die?” said the organisation’s Aurélie Ponthieu

“We are not encouraging the smugglers, but it is not our job to act as a law enforcement agency … [and] not our job to co-operate with law enforcement agencies about the smugglers.”

Also speaking to Die Welt, the new president of the European parliament, Antonio Tajani, proposed the EU should set up reception centres for asylum seekers in Libya, taking over the role currently played by smugglers and the state. Tajani warned that unless Europe acted now 20 million African people would come to Europe over the next few years.

In Europe, terrorist attacks and austerity measures that have stretched welfare provision to breaking point have hardened hearts against refugees, and further fuelled racism. Early in June came reports of how a fascist anti-immigration youth group planned to block boats coming from Libya. Génération Identitaire activists managed to raise nearly $100,000 in less than three weeks through an anonymous crowd funding campaign to pay for the vessels to ply the seas in search of what it calls “illegal immigrants”. 

“It’s a mission to rescue Europe by stopping illegal immigration. We want to get our crew, equip a boat and set sail to chase down these enemies of Europe,” it said in a statement in a video posted on the group’s Facebook page in May, which had more than 246,000 views.

Later, the group hired a boat for a trial run, disrupting a search-and-rescue vessel run by SOS Méditerranée as it left the Sicilian port of Catania. They claimed they had slowed the NGO ship until the Italian coastguard intervened. On board was the Canadian far-right journalist Lauren Southern, who has 278,000 Twitter followers, suggesting an international dimension to the campaign.

The threat from the far right both alarms and infuriates charities operating in the Mediterranean. One senior official, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Observer newspaper in London that politicians had helped create a climate where supporters of the far right felt emboldened to act in such a way. 

“When the British government and its European counterparts talk about ‘swarms’ of migrants, or perpetuate the myth that rescue operations are a ‘pull factor’ or a ‘taxi service’, that gives fuel to extreme groups such as this. The simple reality is that without rescue operations many more would drown, but people would still attempt the crossing,” he said.           

BOX STORY

New ‘Jungle’ appears in Calais

Refugees set up camp again just months after old one is demolished 

Five months after the ‘Jungle’ camp was demolished, the number of refugees in and around the northern French port of  Calais is beginning to build up again. According to aid groups, there have been several hundred new arrivals in recent weeks, half of them unaccompanied juveniles.

“Eritreans and Sudanese are everywhere along the seafront with no welcome centre,” Amin Trouvé-Baghdouche of Doctors of the World was quoted as saying by France’s Le Monde newspaper earlier this month. “They are wandering about, abandoned by the state. Half of them are teenagers of about 15-17 years old, without their families.”

Aid workers say many refugees are building new camps in the woods, although most of the young Africans sleep rough before being move on by the police. They spend the rest of the day in a centre run by Secours Catholique, the only place where they can go between 9am and 5pm.

Humanitarian workers put the total number of refugees at between 400 and 500 and their numbers suggest that the much publicised French efforts to clear the refugees and migrants – who crowded into Calais to cross into Britain on lorries –  had only a limited effect. An estimated 7,000 lived in the  camp before it was bulldozed in November.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of the Calais port, said the authorities needed to keep a close eye on the situation to prevent  it from escalating. The new regional leader, Fabien Sudry, has vowed that there should be “no permanent sites, no squats, no reconstitution of the Jungle” and noted that a 500-strong force is policing the area.

Vincent Coninck of the Secours Catholique said: “We are going back to the time after Sangatte only with a bigger dose of police harassment.” Sangatte was an earlier refugee camp which was closed down in 2002.

“Opinion formers are becoming opinion followers and have capitulated to the Front National and no longer dare to set a lead,” he said, referring to the France’s far right anti-immigrant party.

France’s rights ombudsman, Jacques Toubon, recently noted  that support for migrants had fallen to levels not seen in decades. He decried the authorities for “not just not providing enough resources for basic human dignity to be protected, but also forbidding civil society from making good these inadequacies”.

There have been migrant camps in Calais for almost 20 years. The first centre was opened in 1999 by the Red Cross in the village of Sangatte, which lies about a mile from the Eurotunnel entrance to the UK.

It was started with the help of the French government because of the number of people wanting to get to the UK. Most of the arrivals were from Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The camp swelled to about 2,000 people in 2002, but was closed that year as the British government was worried about the number of illegal immigrants coming to Britain from there.

When the centre shut, many of the refugees just moved into the surrounding woods.

An illegal makeshift camp was created, which became the first "Jungle" camp.

The camp was squalid and unsafe and there were stories of the residents having to wash in the water from a nearby chemical plant.

It was bulldozed in 2009, when about 1,000 people were living there. Many of them were arrested but released soon afterwards without anywhere to go.

By 2014, many more people had made their way to Calais. This time they came from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, as well as African countries like Somalia and Eritrea.

The conditions became similar to those at Sangatte and the French government had to open a migrant centre because there were so many people living in parks and on the streets.

But what started as a refugee population of 1,300 increased to an estimated 7,000 to create a new “Jungle”.

Asylum seekers have been run over, hit by trains and drowned in desperate attempts to swim to England but those remaining were still determined to risk all. Most  already had family members in the UK whom they were hoping to join.

French media reported that a large number of unaccompanied child refugees sent to children’s homes around France have subsequently run away to continue attempting to come to the UK illegally.

Humanitarian organisations raised concerns about “diabolical” conditions in the Calais camp since the start of the refugee crisis, with raw sewage mixing with litter and thick mud in the rain.

Refugees clashed with riot police armed with batons and tear gas during the first wave of demolitions last year. A new camp made out of  converted shipping containers complete with lights, heating and sanitation was avoided by many of them because of its high fences and fingerprint entry systems. 

A survey carried out by Médecins Sans Frontières in May last year discovered that the largest group of refugees were from  Sudan, at around a third, followed by people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Pakistan.

The survey also found it often took Africans more than a year to travel to France after leaving their home countries and making their way to Libya across the Sahara with the help of  people smugglers.  

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