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Relief, shattered dreams, as migrants leave Calais

Britain has taken in nearly 200 child refugees from the Jungle in the past week and is expected to take dozens more. In photo: Migrants leave during the full evacuation of the Calais "Jungle" camp on October 24, 2016. Photograph: (AFP)

Calais, France Oct 24, 2016, 11.26 AM (IST)

Hundreds of migrants packed their bags with a mixture of relief and despair on Monday as they left the notorious "Jungle" camp in the northern French city of Calais under grey skies.

"We don't know yet where we are going, but it will obviously be better than the Jungle, which was made for animals not humans," said Wahid, a 23-year-old from Afghanistan. "We will be in a home."

Wahid was up before dawn to be among the first to get on one of the buses taking the sprawling camp's 6,000 to 8,000 occupants to 451 centres across France.

A 25-year-old Sudanese man, Abbas, was upbeat about leaving the insalubrious camp that has served as a launchpad for attempts to reach Britain.

"I feel very happy, I've had enough of the Jungle," he said. "I wanted to go to the UK but I have given up on that now."

But Hammoudi, a 22-year-old from the devastated Syrian city of Aleppo, told AFP: "My dream is ruined."

"My hope was to be able to reach the UK, where I believe we as refugees would be better treated. But all of that is over," said Hammoudi, whose cousin was killed in a bombing in July. 

A semblance of normality prevailed in the camp in the hours leading up the demolition, with music from all over the world blasting from loudspeakers into the muddy alleyways.

Some migrants were still clinging to hopes of a new life across the Channel.

"They'll have to force us to leave. We want to go to Britain," said Karhazi, a young Afghan who was among many of the migrants with contacts in Britain.

Abbas, the Sudanese youth, said he feared trouble down the road if he did not join the evacuation. 

"There are a lot of people who don't want to leave. There might be problems later. That's why I came out first. I want nothing to do with any problems."

Faisal al-Ajab, an interior decorator from Sudan, took a philosophical line.

"We have to maintain our dignity, whatever life brings us," he said. "The officials say tomorrow is the beginning of something better. Let's hope this is true."

'My country is not safe'

Farhan, a 12-year-old Ethiopian who survived a harrowing sea voyage from Libya to Italy before travelling overland to Calais, said he wished he could go home.

"But my country is not safe," the boy said. "My heart has been broken since I left my family last year. I have not even been able to speak to them."

Farhan was among scores of minors from the majority Oromo community in Ethiopia that has waged nearly a year of protests against a government largely made up of minority Tigrayans.

"Like everyone else, he travelled here alone," said Solan, a 24-year-old Ethiopian volunteer working with the minors.

Britain has taken in nearly 200 child refugees from the Jungle in the past week and is expected to take dozens more.


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