Sun, Oct 30, 2016 - Page 15 News List

Calais business owners dare to hope for ‘apres-Jungle’ boost

By Gina Dogget  /  AFP, CALAIS, France

People living in the “Jungle” refugee camp walk past a sign posted along a road that leads to the town of Calais in France on Sept. 26. Authorities began evacuating the camp on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

A new scent is in the air in Calais, called apres-Jungle, but it is not an exotic aftershave.

Rather it sums up the northern French port’s hopes and fears for the future following the dismantling of the notorious “Jungle” refugee camp in its backyard.

The bars and restaurants of the high street, the Rue Royale, “used to be packed with Britons,” pensioner Michelle Toulotte said in a brasserie where staff outnumbered the customers.

“It’s about time” the Jungle was cleared, said Christophe Defever, owner of the Au Davydson brasserie, a stone’s throw from the town’s central rail station.

“The economy has really suffered since they’ve been here,” he said. “It’s easier to count the shops that are closed than those that are open.”

While a quick tour of the city center revealed that to be an exaggeration, the shuttered Le Tub disco in the Rue Royale attested to a more vibrant past.

The economy of Calais, a town of 72,000 people that has long been a beacon for British day-trippers hunting for a bargain, began to slump early last year when thousands of refugees converged on France’s northern shores, bent on reaching Britain.

In June, the Brexit vote in Britain, which was followed by a slump in the value of sterling, also dented business morale.

Real-estate demand has soured, especially among investors, said Evelyne Duriez, a real-estate agent in the high street.

Media accounts of the crisis have “disfigured Calais’ image” and scared off investors, Duriez said, adding that the property market has remained relatively stable for transactions between locals.

However, sheer geography is a constant minus, she said: “I’m skeptical about the apres-Jungle, because Calais is still the closest point” between French and British shores, tempting refugees to sneak onto cross-Channel trucks and trains.

The economic downturn prompted a high-profile protest last month, when truckers and farmers blocked the main routes in and out of Calais to call for the Jungle’s closure.

Under pressure from a Calais business collective, regional authorities agreed to boost the police presence on the motorway and to rapidly dismantle the lawless shantytown.

A barman said appeals for tax breaks and other relief had fallen on deaf ears.

“The government has completely ignored us,” he said on condition of anonymity.

However, he said the city, which has a center-right mayor, “can’t do much” while Socialists are in power in the central government.

Meanwhile at the tourist office, bilingual brochures abound extolling the town’s attractions, from its quirky neo-Renaissance city hall to an impressive museum devoted to the region’s lace industry.

“A Great Day in Calais” and “Shop Till You Drop” were among the headlines in a newspaper-style promotion created by the city.

The regional newspaper La Voix du Nord reported that French President Francois Hollande might visit Calais next week to mark the shutdown of the Jungle.

The success of the operation is crucial for the deeply unpopular president, who has yet to announce whether he will stand for re-election next year.

A barman in the Rue Royale was magnanimous, except when it came to Hollande.

“May the apres-Jungle be beneficial for everyone,” he said.

However, regarding Hollande’s mooted visit, he said: “May he stay home.”

Taxi driver Herve Legrand said his business has broken even thanks to the intense media focus on the Jungle crisis.

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