CALAIS (France) • A first group of unaccompanied migrant children has left the Calais "Jungle" camp for Britain, days after a French minister said the United Kingdom had a "moral duty" to take them in.
The Calais prefecture confirmed that about two dozen unaccompanied minors were bound for a new life in Britain, where they had family members, although it added that there was "no deal for a larger-scale plan" to evacuate children.
"Five Syrian minors and one Afghan minor have just been transferred to the United Kingdom. From Monday, around 10 more minors will follow, then on Tuesday, about 10 more," a spokesman told Agence France-Presse. The minors set off on Saturday.
The children have been living in squalid conditions in the Calais encampment where charities estimate up to 10,000 migrants from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have settled in the hope of reaching Britain. The camp faces demolition.
The departure comes after French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve last Monday said he was asking "Britain to assume its moral duty" by accepting unaccompanied children with family in Britain.
The British Red Cross has said 178 unaccompanied children in the camp have already been identified as having the right to claim asylum in Britain due to their family links.
In a statement to Parliament on Oct 10, Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted that Britain was ready to cooperate with France on the issue but that an agreement had not yet been reached.
She added: "The primary responsibility (for the children involved)... lies with the French authorities. The UK government has no authority in France."
However, she said Britain was keen to bring as many eligible children over to the country before the "Jungle" site was dismantled, adding that London would move within "days, a week at most".
Saturday also saw the start of construction on a new wall designed to block migrant access to the Calais port, a magnet for would-be stowaways who target UK-bound lorries.
The first 4m-high concrete panels in the so-called "anti-intrusion" wall were moved into place, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
When complete, the wall will stretch for about 1km and add to some 30km of existing wire fences along the road leading to the port.
"Work is being undertaken on schedule and should be finished by the year end," said the Calais prefecture spokesman of the €2.7 million (S$4.1 million) structure, which Britain has agreed to finance.
The "Jungle" has become a symbol of Europe's biggest migrant crisis since World War II and a major source of Anglo-French tensions, leading President Francois Hollande to demand that the site be demolished before the end of the year.
The French government has yet to give an official date for dismantling the camp.
Initial indications that it might happen as early as tomorrow, however, proved premature and the plan has been put back at least a week, sources indicated.
Meanwhile, work has been stepped up on the creation of reception centres across France to house as many as 9,000 people from Calais.