Workers escorted by scores of French police officers moved into the “Jungle” in Calais yesterday, demolishing shacks and tents emptied of migrants who were being bussed to shelters around France.
The demolition work began on the second day of a massive operation to clear the squalid settlement in northern France, where an estimated 8,000 migrants, mostly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans, have been living.
“The start of the clean-up operations sends a sign that La Lande camp is really over,” said Fabienne Buccio, head of security in the region, using the official name for the camp known as the “Jungle”.
The finality of the operation was driven home by the demolition operation, as mattresses, blankets, clothes, pots and suitcases left behind by the migrants were piled on top of the wood and plastic sheeting used in their shacks.
Wearing hard hats and orange overalls the workers used electric saws to take down wooden shelters and earth-moving equipment to clear debris from the site that has for years been a launchpad for attempts to reach Britain.
Riot police carrying shields sealed off the area.
Beforehand, aid workers and officials had gone tent-to-tent to ensure the area had been vacated.
Since Monday, around 2,700 people have been transferred to shelters around France while around 600 unaccompanied minors have been moved to a container park in the Jungle where families had been staying, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
Others, including a number of Afghans, are waiting until today, billed as the last day for bus transfers.
Ali Othman, a Sudanese 18-year-old, vowed he would not leave voluntarily.
“They can detain me, jail me, throw me out on the street. I still want to go to Britain,” he said, smoking a cigarette outside his tent.
The shantytown, one of Europe’s biggest slums, was rapidly becoming a ghost town.
“It makes me sad to see the camp in this state,” said Marie Paule, a charity worker who started volunteering at the Jungle last year. “I have a heavy heart ... but it’s the best solution for them.”
The migrants face a choice between requesting asylum in France or being possibly deported.
Earlier yesterday, hundreds of anxious minors queued to be interviewed by French and British officials who will decide their fate.
The Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity accused officials picking those who will be accepted into Britain of excluding a number of children by selecting on the basis of appearance.
Cazeneuve said all unaccompanied minors “with proven family links in Britain” would eventually be transferred and that London had also committed to reviewing other cases where it was “in the child’s interest” to settle across the Channel.
Britain has taken in nearly 200 teenagers over the past week.
Hundreds more are waiting for a decision.
British Interior Minister Amber Rudd pledged to bring eligible children from France to Britain “as quickly and as safely as possible” in the coming days and weeks.
She did not specify numbers.
Located on wasteland next to the port of Calais, the 4sq km Jungle has become a symbol of Europe’s failure to resolve its worst migration crisis since World War II.
More than 1mn people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa poured into Europe last year, sowing divisions across the 28-nation bloc and fuelling the rise of far-right parties.
Calais has long exerted a pull on migrants who try to board lorries or jump onto trains heading across the Channel to England, where they believe their job and integration prospects to be better than in France.
Over the past year, police have battled near-nightly attempts by migrants to climb onto trucks bound for Calais port – a perilous pursuit that has cost dozens of migrants their lives.
Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart said seeing people queue to leave the camp was “a great relief”.
But many locals fear more camps will sprout up in the area once the Jungle is razed.
Around France, the resettlement of asylum-seekers has met with a mix of hostility and solidarity.
Villagers in the wine-making hamlet of Chardonnay gave two dozen Sudanese youths a chilly reception on Monday while Paris and Nantes saw small pro-migrant rallies.
Back in the Juno togle, Arbat, a 25-year-old Sudanese migrant, said that he was ready to move on.
“I know my future is no longer here,” he said in good French, adding that he wants to marry a Frenchwoman.
“They tell me they are all beautiful. Is it true?” he joked.
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