French authorities begin Calais camp clearance, but future uncertain for migrant residents

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 October, 2016, 11:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 October, 2016, 10:12am

After months of talk by French authorities, threats to destroy the sprawling “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais finally became reality and hundreds of its residents gave up on their dream of reaching Britain, a short sea crossing away.

Following sporadic outbreaks of unrest overnight, the migrants chose to stay in France while their asylum requests are considered.

By lunchtime, more than 700 had left the squalid shantytown on France’s northern coast for refugee centres across the country.

French officials celebrated the peaceful start to yet another attempt to dismantle the camp, which has become a symbol of Europe’s failure to respond to the migration crisis.

But aid workers warned that the trouble overnight, when some migrants burned toilet blocks and threw stones at police, indicated tensions could escalate.

Under pressure to get tough on immigration ahead of an election, the Socialist government ­insists it is closing the camp on humanitarian grounds. It plans to relocate the 6,500 migrants to 450 centres across France.

“It doesn’t matter where I end up, I don’t really care,” said Amadou Diallo from the West African nation of Guinea.

Many of the migrants are from Afghanistan and Syria and had wanted to reach Britain. Some wished to join up with relatives already there and most planned to look for work, saying there more jobs there than in France.

But Britain bars most of them based on EU rules requiring them to seek asylum in the first member state they set foot in.

As the process began, the fate of about 1,300 unaccompanied child migrants was still unclear.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged Britain last week to step up efforts to identify and resettle child migrants. London has given priority to children with family ties.

Britain’s Home Office said yesterday it had agreed to suspend the transfer of more children at the request of the French. For now, children will stay in shipping containers near the Jungle, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Geneva said.

“It’s cold here,” said Abdallah, a Sudanese teenager. “Maybe we’ll be able to leave in a bus later, or next week, for Britain.”

Aid workers went from tent to tent, urging migrants to leave the camp before heavy machinery is rolled in to start the demolition.

Some warned that migrants who are determined to reach Britain will simply scatter into the ­surrounding countryside, only to regroup in Calais later.

“Each time they dismantle part of the camp it’s the same thing. You’re going to see them go into hiding and then come back. The battles will continue,” said Christian Salome, president of refugee charity Auberge des ­Migrants.

France’s far-right National Front party said the government plan would create mini-Calais camps across the country.