on October 25, 2016, 11:33 pm
Calais (France) (AFP) – Workers were set to begin demolishing the notorious Calais “Jungle” camp on Tuesday as hundreds of migrants boarded buses on the second day of a massive operation to clear the squalid settlement.
More than 1,900 left the slum on Monday, ahead of work to tear down the makeshift shelters and eateries in the camp that has become a symbol of Europe’s refugee crisis.
At least 800 youngsters are being provisionally housed in shipping containers in a part of the Jungle where families had been living.
The director of the centre, Stephane Duval, said 400 were moved there on Tuesday, with a goal of boosting the population to 1,000 minors by the end of the day.
The sprawling 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.”
Early Tuesday, scores of minors awaited their turn to be interviewed by French and British officials.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said all unaccompanied minors “with proven family links in Great Britain” would eventually be transferred across the Channel.
– ‘We’re doing their work’ –
Britain has taken in nearly 200 teenagers over the past week, but the transfers were on hold Monday.
British interior minister Amber Rudd said London was contributing up to Â£36 million (40 million euros, $44 million) towards the operation to clear the camp.
The head of France’s refugee agency, Pascal Brice, had harsh words for Britain’s role on Tuesday.
“We’re doing their work for them,” he said on French radio, reiterating calls for Britain to take in the Jungle’s minors.
Britain and France signed the so-called Le Touquet accord, which effectively moved Britain’s border with France to the French side of the Channel, in 2003.
An estimated 6,000-8,000 people, mainly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans, have been living in dire conditions in the Jungle in the hope of sneaking into Britain.
Christian Salome, head of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants’ Hostel) charity, said the transfer process was “working well” but he feared around 2,000 people “still want to reach England.”
Sudanese migrant Ali Othman, 18, smoking a cigarette outside his tent, was among those voicing defiance.
“Whatever the French police do to me I will not apply for asylum here,” he said. “They can detain me, jail me, throw me out on the street. I still want to go to Britain.”
Officials fear that new camps will sprout up around Calais unless police remain vigilant.
Located on wasteland next to the port of Calais, the four-square-kilometre (1.5-square-mile) Jungle has become a symbol of Europe’s failure to resolve its worst migration crisis since World War II.
More than one million 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.
Those seeking to smuggle themselves into Britain, believing it offers better chances of work and integration than France, have been converging on Calais for well over a decade.
Over the past year, police have battled near-nightly attempts by migrants to climb onto trucks heading across the Channel.
Dozens have been killed on the road or while trying to jump onto passing trains.
– ‘No future here’ –
The redistribution of the migrants carries political risks for Socialist President Francois Hollande, six months before elections in which the migrant issue will loom large.
Some have opposed plans to resettle asylum-seekers in their communities. In the eastern wine village of Chardonnay two dozen young Sudanese asylum seekers received a chilly reception on Monday.
Locals watched from a distance as the men got off the bus in the village, which will eventually host 50 asylum seekers among a population of just 200 villagers.
“This massive arrival of migrants, it’s inappropriate,” said resident Joelle Chevaux.
But elsewhere people turned out in solidarity for the migrants, with rallies attracting some 200 people in Paris and 250 in the western city of Nantes.
Back at the Jungle, 25-year-old Sudanese migrant Arbat said he was ready to move on.
“I know my future is no longer here. I will see how I do elsewhere,” he said.
Speaking in good French, he added that he wants to marry a French woman. “They tell me they are all beautiful. Is it true?” he joked.