CALAIS: Most of the migrants left wandering the Calais “Jungle” were relocated Friday following the camp’s demolition, including dozens of the youngsters whose fate has deeply concerned Britain and France.
After being left to fend for themselves for two days in the deserted burnt-out shantytown, around 100 stragglers boarded buses for shelters around France as part of a government operation to shut down the notorious slum.
Around 50 minors, mostly Sudanese, were taken to a centre for refugee children, with another bus of 34 older youths leaving shortly afterwards.
Only around two dozen people who had spent the night in a disused part of the camp were still unaccounted for, following a clearance operation since Monday that has seen some 4,500 people transferred to hostels around France.
Some had been refusing to budge from the site near the northern port of Calais, where migrants have flocked for years in the hope of stowing away on a truck crossing the Channel to Britain.
They included a number of children, whose fate had sparked a war of words between France and Britain.
Among the last to leave Friday was Abdel Bassi, a Sudanese 17-year-old who had been clinging to dreams of a new life across the sea.
“All my friends are in England,” the teen said disconsolately.
France sees the Jungle as a problem chiefly of Britain’s making given that most of its inhabitants were seeking to reach British shores.
On Thursday evening, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve reacted with “surprise” to a demand by his British counterpart Amber Rudd that children left in the Jungle were “properly protected”.
“These people… had been planning to migrate to the United Kingdom,” he said in a statement, insisting that France “had fulfilled its responsibilities out of solidarity and without trying to shy away” from its duty.
Britain has taken in 274 children from the Jungle since mid-October, mostly youngsters with relatives in the country.
Hundreds of others seeking admission to Britain under a scheme for vulnerable children are waiting for their cases to be assessed.
Around 1,500 minors have been taken into a container park next to the Jungle as a temporary measure.
The UN refugee agency had asked that “special arrangements be made to ensure the safety and welfare” of children in the Jungle before it closed, a spokesman said.
On Friday, demolition teams continued tearing down the once bustling settlement of tents and shacks where an estimated 6,000-plus people, mostly Afghan, Sudanese and Eritrean men, had been living. Some set fires to their shacks as they left.
French authorities have said those migrants who agree to be relocated can seek asylum in France. Those who refuse risk being detained and deported.
The relocated Jungle residents have received a frosty reception in some French towns that have baulked at taking in foreigners in a climate of heightened tensions following a spate of terror attacks.
But others have welcomed them with open arms.
More than a million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa poured into Europe last year, sowing divisions across the 28-nation EU and fuelling the rise of far-right movements such as Germany’s Pegida and France’s National Front.
Many of the migrants in Calais had contacts in Britain and believed their job prospects there to be better than in France.
Many Calais locals fear the Jungle will simply spring back up again once the current clearance operation is over.
Aid groups estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 migrants left the Jungle before the evacuation began.
Some are believed to be hiding out in the Calais area, biding their time before fresh attempts to stow away.
Police in northern France told AFP they had also seen signs of a move south to Paris, where a thicket of tents has been visibly growing under a railway bridge in the city’s north in recent weeks.
Senior regional official Jean-Francois Carenco said more than 2,000 migrants were sleeping on the streets of Paris, but he denied that large numbers had been arriving from Calais over the past few days after slipping through the net.
“Controls are in place on the roads and the railways, and there is nothing at this stage to indicate an influx of migrants coming from Calais,” he said. AFP