PARIS (REUTERS) - France plans to close part of a camp for migrants near Calais on its northern Channel coast within a week, forcing almost 1,000 people to leave, officials said on Friday.
Thousands of people fleeing poverty and war have converged at a camp near Calais called the "jungle" over the past year in hopes of making it to Britain where lower unemployment, the English language and fewer identity checks are still seen as big draws.
French authorities said they would offer 750 migrants, many from Africa and the Middle East, spaces in a state-run shelter made of converted shipping containers, opened last month.
The south part of the camp will then be flattened in a week's time.
The containers, designed to accommodate up to 1,500 people, are equipped with bunk beds, heaters and windows but lack toilets and showers. Many refugees told Reuters they were reluctant to move there because access is controlled by handprint technology.
Others would be encouraged to move to other migrant centres in France.
"I hope we don't have to make an eviction by force," Fabienne Buccio, the regional prefect, told Reuters. "The conditions are there for us to do that and flatten part of the camp that gives Calais a bad image."
The decision comes a month after authorities decided to clear a 100m strip next to a road that passes above the camp, forcing some 500 to 700 people to move their tents.
An estimated 4,000 migrants now live in the state shelters and in the "jungle". This number had spiked to 6,000 in September and many believe the figure will rise again as the spring approaches.
Incidents involving migrants and the police have surged since last October when security near the Channel Tunnel was reinforced to prevent anybody from entering the Eurotunnel infrastructure.
On Jan 23, some 200 refugees managed to break into the port of Calais, enabling some of them to board the front deck of a British ferry, after a demonstration of support for migrants.