A child migrant waits outside the Calais 'Jungle' schoolhouse after police let them back in. Photograph: (Getty)
The French reacted to the British interior minister's suggestion that more could be done to shelter the at-risk minors
France demanded on Friday that Britain take in hundreds of minors from war-torn countries after the British interior minister suggested that Paris should do more for them following the closure of the "Jungle" migrant camp in the northern French port city of Calais.
Bulldozers are flattening the sprawl of ramshackle huts and tents which had been home to about 6,000 refugees and migrants from Asia, the Middle East and Africa hoping to cross the English Channel and start new lives in Britain.
Most have now been bussed to other centres across France pending examination of their cases. But the plight of hundreds of minors roaming the area, nearly 1,500 of whom have signed up for temporary lodging in container-boxes in Calais, has become a point of dispute.
British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd told her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve on Friday that his government must guarantee the protection of youngsters left in limbo after the evacuation of the "Jungle".
"Any child either eligible or not in the secure area of the camp should be cared for and safeguarded by the French authorities. We understand that specialist facilities have been made available elsewhere in France to ensure this happens," Rudd's spokesman quoted her as saying.
Cazeneuve replied that Britain should "quickly execute its responsibilities to take in these minors, who hope to come to the United Kingdom. This is the best way to give them the protection they are due," he said.
The head of France's Ofpra refugee agency, Pascal Brice, put it more bluntly. "We've done Britain's work in tending to the adults," he told Reuters. "The least they can do is take care of the isolated minors who are now at the CAP (temporary lodgings) and who have an interest in going to Britain."
French government officials in the region say that 1,451 minors are in the container-box lodgings. Britain has so far accepted 274 children from among this group, France says. European Union rules say Britain must take in unaccompanied children who have family ties there. An amendment to those rules adopted in Britain this year states that such minors whose best interests are served by doing so should also be admitted.
Aid groups say hundreds if not thousands more adults and minors may have fled into the hinterland around the "Jungle", ready to return when the heavy police presence wanes. Smoke and dust floated over the heart of the site on Friday, as bulldozers cleared mounds of debris and rubbish, watched from afar by a group of youngsters who had slept outdoors in an area that once serve as a school for camp-dwellers. Charity workers gave them food on Friday.
Abdul Hadi, an Afghan youth who gave his age as 16, said he spent 10 months in the “Jungle” but failed to register with the French authorities for help when the evacuation on Monday. "I hope I can get to the UK this week," he said.
Serge Szarzynski, head of social affairs in the Calais area, told Reuters a solution would be found for Hadi and the youths with him.