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French Riot Police Clear Calais Refugee Camps Over Scabies Threat

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Riot police moved in to clear several hundred migrants from camps in northern France Wednesday, after authorities said evictions were necessary to tackle an outbreak of disease.

Officials in the port city of Calais issued an eviction order Friday to deal with the spread of scabies.

The area has long been a magnet for refugees hoping to smuggle themselves through the Channel Tunnel to Britain on trucks or railway wagons.

But many end up staying in the squalid camps for months or even years, surviving on daily food handouts from the local council, non-profit organizations and volunteers.

Many of the migrants come from north and east Africa or south Asia, driven by conflicts such as the Syria civil war and the 2011 Arab Spring.

It was not immediately clear where the migrants would go following the evictions. NBC News’ U.K. news partner, ITV News, reported that officials told the refugees they must take a shower and that a hotel or apartment would be offered to those affected. Authorities have been handing out scabies medicine.

Several busloads of police in riot gear arrived at the camps early on Wednesday, the BBC reported. After a stand-off with local activists, the officers moved in and told migrants to pack their bags.

“NGOs have been asking for several years an improvement of access to hygiene, such as drinkable water, showers and toilets, to restrict the emergence and spread of illnesses such as scabies,” Dr. Jean-François Corty, of charity Médécins du Monde, told French public broadcaster RFI.

“If there is scabies in Calais it’s mainly because the authorities have not bothered to establish structures that allow people in a precarious situation to have a minimum of hygiene.”

Disease and the risk of death are a fact of life in the Calais camps. Earlier this month, an 18-year-old Sudanese man was crushed to death by a bus he was trying to hide aboard to get to the U.K – the seventh migrant to die in similar circumstances this year.

One Bangladeshi man, who asked not to be named, told ITV News: "It's worth taking these risks even if I lose my life because every moment I am stuck here I am also losing my life."

-Alastair Jamieson

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