Workers begin demolishing France's 'Jungle' migrant camp

Workmen tearing down a makeshift shelter on the second day the evacuation of migrants and their transfer to reception centers in France, as part of the dismantlement of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais, France, on October 25, 2016.
Workmen tearing down a makeshift shelter on the second day the evacuation of migrants and their transfer to reception centers in France, as part of the dismantlement of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais, France, on October 25, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - A group of about 20 workers began on Tuesday (Oct 25) to slowly destroy the structures of the Calais "Jungle" camp using sledgehammers and by hand, according to a Reuters reporter at the scene, who also saw two small bulldozers waiting nearby.

As the clearing operation got underway, a large fire that was visible in the northern part of the camp on Tuesday, on a scale beyond those that can be seen on any day at the migrant camp, appeared to have died down.

Black smoke rose from the fire as it burnt on the second day of the French authorities' operation to clear the camp of an its thousands of inhabitants and resettle them elsewhere.

The demolition of the camp was scheduled to take place as part of government plans to clear it. Until the start of this week it was home to over 6,000 people, most of them hoping to reach Britain a short distance across the sea.

The operation has been largely peaceful so far.

The government has been bussing the people to resettlement centres elsewhere in France.

Migrants pushed against police lines outside the camp on Tuesday, waiting for processing as government workers prepared to move in to start clearing the sprawling shanty-town.

Hundreds of camp dwellers, many carrying all their possessions in backpacks, waited for busses to take them on to temporary accommodation across France, as the start of a massive operation to demolish the site.

Some kept warm around piles of burning rubbish in the camp, a filthy expanse that has become a symbol of Europe's failed migration policies as member states bicker over who should take in asylum-seekers and economic migrants.

There was no repeat of the minor skirmishes with security forces seen over the weekend and French officials said the early stages of the demolition operation were going peacefully.

For many of the migrants fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Afghanistan and other conflict zones, the closure of the"Jungle" marked the end of a dream to reach Britain, which lies a tantalisingly short sea crossing away.

"We know the Jungle is over," said Mr Aarash, a 21-year-old Afghan as he made his way to the hangar where immigration officials are processing the migrants. "We will see if we can get on a bus today, but we want a good city, like one near Paris. If we can't go there we will come back to the Jungle."

Several teams of social workers accompanied by translators sent by the government toured the camp early on Tuesday handing out leaflets to convince migrants they need to prepare to leave the camp.

Officials showed some a map of France with a "You Are Here" arrow in English pointing to Calais. "Overall the migrants have understood that time is up for the Jungle. They've been receptive," said regional senior social worker Serge Szarzynski.

Nonetheless, some migrants said that they would resist efforts to resettle them in France.

"France is a good country but just not right for me and my situation. I am going to stay and I will build another jungle!" said a 32-year-old Afghan who gave his name only as Khan.

London and Paris have been at odds over the fate of about 1,300 unaccompanied child migrants. The French government last week urged Britain to step up its efforts and resettle child migrants.

On Monday, British Interior Minister Amber Rudd said Britain would take in roughly half of the camp's children who are alone. Her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve said that all unaccompanied children with family ties in Britain would be taken there.

Proudly showing a plastic bracelet that allows him to reach Britain, 17-year-old Eritrean Adel Moussa said he was still in limbo. "I am registered! But they didn't say when I can leave. I am a bit scared," he told Reuters.

Six months ahead of a presidential election in France, the camp and border controls with Britain are hotly debated campaign themes. Some right-wing opponents of President Francois Hollande want all the migrants transferred to Britain.

Meanwhile, the far-right National Front party said the government plan would create mini-Calais camps across France.