France begins clearing 'Jungle' migrant camp

The makeshift camp at Calais has been home to 6,500 migrants fleeing war or poverty.
The makeshift camp at Calais has been home to 6,500 migrants fleeing war or poverty.PHOTO: REUTERS

Thousands to be resettled across the country as charities warn of rising tensions

CALAIS • Hundreds of migrants carrying suitcases and bundles of possessions have queued outside Calais to be resettled as the French government started clearing a makeshift camp known as the "Jungle".

Armed police fanned out across the squalid shantytown yesterday after a night during which small groups of migrants burnt toilet blocks and hurled stones at security forces in protest against plans to dismantle the camp.

The Socialist government says it is closing the camp, home to 6,500 migrants fleeing war or poverty, on humanitarian grounds.

Yesterday, a series of buses took the first to leave to 450 centres across France. "It's going well. We knew this morning that there would be a lot of people, and that's what's happening," regional prefect Fabienne Buccio said.

The government expects the evacuation will take at least a week. The far-right National Front party says the plan will create mini-Calais camps across France.

"I hope this works out. I'm alone and I just have to study,"said Amadou Diallo from Guinea in West Africa. "It doesn't matter where I end up, I don't really care."

Many of the migrants hail from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea and had wanted to reach Britain, which bars most of them on the basis of EU rules requiring them to seek asylum in the first European country they set foot in.

But even as the process began, the fate of about 1,300 unaccompanied child migrants remained uncertain. Discussions were under way with British authorities over who should take in children with no family ties in Britain, a French interior ministry spokesman said, adding that 200 had left for Britain last week. "We had a particular concern for the minors, paid them particular attention, but it went well," Ms Buccio said.

While calm prevailed in the first hours of the operation yesterday, charity workers expect hundreds to try to stay and cautioned that the mood could change later in the week when work begins on dismantling the camp.

"There's a risk tensions increase in the week because at some point the bulldozers are going to have to come in," said Mr Fabrice Durieux of the charity Salam.

Others warned that many migrants determined to reach Britain would simply scatter into the surrounding countryside, only to regroup in Calais at a later date.

"You're going to see them go into hiding and then come back. The battles will continue," said Mr Christian Salome, president of the non-profit group Auberge des Migrants.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'France begins clearing 'Jungle' migrant camp'. Print Edition | Subscribe