President Francois Hollande today visits Calais, after vowing to close the notorious “Jungle” camp on the outskirts of the city despite growing controversy over the fate of thousands of desperate migrants there.
Hollande’s visit comes just days after one by his conservative predecessor Sarkozy — who is hoping to make a comeback as president, with a harsh line on migration a key part of his campaign.
While in the port city he will meet with police, local politicians, business leaders and representatives from civil society groups, but he is not expected to visit the camp itself.
Migration has been a low-key issue under Hollande’s four-year-old presidency.
But he has been forced to take a visible stance on the issue, under pressure from brash right-winger Sarkozy and far-right leader Marine Le Pen.
Each are promoting platforms of security, patriotism and national interest in early campaigning for next year’s elections.
Under pressure from the right wing, Hollande on Saturday stepped up his own pledge to combat illegal migration, promising to “completely dismantle” the Jungle camp.
His government has said this will happen “before winter” and a flurry of preparations under way there suggest the operation may begin shortly.
But plans to relocate the migrants have sparked controversy and protests, with local residents in areas where new shelters could be established vehemently opposed to the move.
The Jungle camp has also become a sore point in relations between France and Britain.
Last week, building work began on a British-funded wall to clamp down on repeated attempts by migrants to stow away on trucks heading for Britain.
Rights groups have also strongly criticized the difficulties and dangers facing the up to 10,000 migrants living in the camp, with a 14-year-old Afghan boy killed by a car just last week as he tried to get onto a truck.