CALAIS, France – The migrant camp in Calais must be fully dismantled by the end of the year, French President Francois Hollande said Monday in an attempt to highlight the Socialist government's efforts to tackle the issue ahead of next year's presidential election.
Hollande, who was visiting Calais for the first time since winning office in 2012, said the camp known as "the Jungle" is a "humanitarian emergency."
Authorities say about 7,000 people live in squalid conditions near the port of Calais hoping to get to Britain, but aid groups say the number is closer to 10,000.
Hollande, who is eying a re-election bid, is facing harsh criticism from conservative and far-right rivals who see the camp as a symbol of his failure to deal with Europe's migrants crisis.
Former president Nicolas Sarkozy, who is competing to win the conservative primary, promised last week in Calais he would be able to solve the issue in a few months by re-establishing strict border controls all around the country.
France is a member of Europe's passport free-travel zone while Britain is not.
In a speech to police forces securing the area, Hollande vowed to shut down the camp "with method and determination" so that new camps don't appear near Calais or elsewhere across France.
"We must guarantee a durable and effective sealing of the French-British border," he said, insisting that British authorities must also do "their part."
The government announced plans in the summer to disperse Calais migrants into centers across France, where they will be able to apply for asylum.
Hollande reaffirmed that plan on Saturday when he visited one of France's 164 migrant reception centers in the central city of Tours.
The government has not given a firm timeline.
Reception centers will hold 40-50 people for up to four months while authorities study their cases. Migrants who don't seek asylum will be deported.
In a letter to Hollande, a group of eight nonprofit organizations helping migrants called for a long-term policy of hospitality and integration in France. They criticized the dismantlement of the Calais camp as a "short-term view that does not solve anything for the dozens of people who will continue to arrive every day in Calais."
"In Calais and elsewhere, France does not respect human rights," they wrote.