CALAIS: French workers escorted by riot police on Tuesday began tearing down shacks and tents in the Calais “Jungle” vacated by migrants who have been bussed to shelters around the country.
The demolition work began on the second day of a massive operation to clear the squalid camp in northern France, where an estimated 6,000-8,000 migrants, mostly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans, have been living.
“The start of the clean-up operations sends a sign that La Lande camp is really over,” said Fabienne Buccio, head of security in the region, using the official name for a camp that has become one of the most notorious symbols of Europe’s migrant crisis.
Workers in hard hats and orange overalls used electric saws to reduce shacks to piles of wood and plastic that were removed by diggers. Mattresses, blankets, clothes, pots and suitcases left behind by the migrants were also carted away.
Situated next to the port of Calais, the Jungle has for years been a launchpad for migrants attempting to make it to Britain by sneaking onto lorries of jumping onto trains heading across the Channel.
As part of the camp’s clearance, 3,182 adults have been transferred to centres around France since Monday and 772 unaccompanied minors have been moved to a container park in the Jungle serving as a temporary shelter, the interior ministry said.
The numbers represent around half the camp’s estimated population before the operation began, according to official figures.
After an initial stampede for the buses on Monday, the pace of departures slowed Tuesday with 1,264 people being driven away, down from 1,918.
The authorities have said those who agree to be moved can seek asylum in France. Those who refuse risk deportation.
Fire trucks were dispatched into the camp on Tuesday evening after a handful of shacks were set alight, apparently by migrants resisting the Jungle’s closure.
A number of migrants are waiting until Wednesday to leave.
Ali Othman, a Sudanese 18-year-old, vowed he would not go quietly.
“They can detain me, jail me, throw me out on the street. I still want to go to Britain,” he said.
The Jungle’s thousand-plus unaccompanied minors have been the main focus of charities’ concerns, and hundreds of anxious youths queued at a hangar Tuesday for interviews with French and British officials who will decide their fate.
Britain took in around 200 teenagers in the week before the clearance began as an eleventh-hour gesture, with the transfers resuming Tuesday after a hiatus on Monday.
An AFP reporter saw a coach carrying around 30 child refugees arrive at an immigration office in the London district of Croydon.
The curtains on the bus were drawn after pictures of some teenagers reunited with family in Britain sparked accusations that they had lied about being children.
Cazeneuve said Tuesday that all unaccompanied minors “with proven family links in Britain” would eventually be transferred and that London had committed to reviewing all other cases where it was “in the child’s interest” to settle across the Channel.
British Interior Minister Amber Rudd on Monday pledged to bring eligible children from France to Britain “as quickly and as safely as possible”, without specifying numbers.
Police in Calais have battled near-nightly attempts by migrants to climb onto trucks bound for England over the past year.
The town’s Mayor Natacha Bouchart said seeing people queue to leave the camp was “a great relief.”
But many locals fear more settlements will sprout up in the area once the Jungle is razed.
Around France, the resettlement of asylum-seekers has met with a mix of hostility and solidarity.
Villagers in the wine-making hamlet of Chardonnay gave two dozen Sudanese youths a chilly reception on Monday, while Paris and Nantes saw small pro-migrant rallies.
Back in the Jungle, Arbat, a 25-year-old Sudanese migrant, said he was ready to move on.
“I know my future is no longer here,” he said in good French, adding that he wants to marry a French woman.
“They tell me they are all beautiful. Is it true?” he joked. AFP