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France starts clearing Calais 'jungle' migrant camp

The closure of the squalid 'Jungle' camp is aimed at relieving tensions in the?Calais?area, where clashes between police and migrants trying to climb onto trucks heading to Britain are an almost nightly occurrence. Photograph: (Getty)

Calais, France Oct 24, 2016, 05.24 AM (IST)

Migrants began arriving early Monday at official meeting points set by French authorities as part of the full evacuation and demolition of the Calais "jungle" refugee camp, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.

Men and women carrying suitcases and bundles of possessions gathered in front of a warehouse which is serving as the main headquarters of the operation, in which some 6,000 to 8,000 migrants will be moved to reception centres across the country.

It will allow the closure of the Calais "jungle", the largest shanty town in France, which over the last 18 months has filled up with about 7,000 refugees — mostly from Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea — seeking to cross the Channel to get to Britain. Unofficial estimates from September said about 10,000 lived in the "jungle".

The closure of the squalid camp is aimed at relieving tensions in the Calais area, where clashes between police and migrants trying to climb onto trucks heading to Britain are an almost nightly occurrence.

 

French riot police advance through tear gas and smoke from a fire to disperse migrants throwing stones and lighting fires at the Jungle migrant camp. October 23, 2016 in Calais, France. (Getty)

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There is a federal election in France in May of 2017, and how to deal with the Calais Jungle is a contentious issue. France's government has billed the enormous operation to clear the camp as "humanitarian". But there were confrontations this weekend between riot police armed with tear gas and groups of refugees throwing stones, who do not want to be relocated in France because they still intend on reaching Britain.

The BBC reports that the UK has begun to accept some of the nearly 1,300 unaccompanied children from the camp. Sky News reports that in July, the charity Citizens UK gave the British government a list with the names of 178 minors on it, all who have family in the UK. Under the law, they are entitled to be reunited with their family.

Identifying the camp inhabitants can be very difficult. Since many seek the protection afforded to youth, they are incentivised to lie about their age and say they're younger than they are. Also, many may official identification, making it impossible to say for sure who or how old they are.

Dozens of riot police vehicles and other trucks carrying equipment had earlier set off in the direction of the operation centre, an AFP correspondent saw.

Around 1,250 police and security officials have been mobilised.

In February, the southern half of the "jungle" was demolished, as the government hoped it would help disperse residents to the remaining inhabitants to other camps in France. While some did, many simply moved north, increasing the already dense population of the Calais camp.

(WION with inputs from agencies)

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