France: Dismantling of Calais Jungle camp begins

Refugees and migrants gather at official meeting points for evacuation operation expected to take three days.

Migrants and refugees have begun arriving at official meeting points set by French authorities as part of the full evacuation of the so-called Jungle camp in Calais.

Men and women carrying suitcases and bundles of possessions gathered early on Monday in front of a warehouse which is serving as the main headquarters of the evacuation operation.

French authorities believe the evacuation will take around three days in total.

As part of the operation, between 6,000 and 8,000 migrants and refugees – mostly from Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea – will be moved to reception centres across France.

Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from Calais, said an estimated 1,100 people left the camp around 15:00 GMT on Monday.  

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Our correspondent described “very tearful scenes” as some of the refugees said goodbye to friends and fellow refugees and migrants.  

“Calais is being cleared. But they might come back. They have come back before. Many of these people have been dispersed around France but are drawn like a magnet towards this area,” Chater said. 

Dozens of French riot police vehicles and other trucks carrying equipment earlier set off in the direction of the operation centre.

The flyers distributed on Sunday instructed the migrants and refugees in Arabic, Tigrinya, Pashto and other languages to show up at the warehouse from 8am local time on Monday (06:00 GMT) with their luggage.

At the warehouse they will be separated into four groups for families, single men, unaccompanied minors and other people considered vulnerable before boarding one of 60 buses that will take them to nearly 300 shelters nationwide.

Child refugees

British officials have been racing to process child refugees seeking to be transferred to Britain before they become scattered throughout France.

By Saturday, the number of minors given a one-way ticket to Britain under a fast-tracked process for children launched a week ago stood at 194, according to France Terre d’Asile, a charity helping in the process.

Calais refugee children wait to be allowed into UK

Most have relatives across the Channel but 53 girls without family in Britain also departed from France at the weekend.

A spokesman for Britain’s interior ministry confirmed it had “now started the process of taking in those children without close family links”.

Adult migrants and refugees with relatives in Britain have complained about being left out in the cold.

Some have pledged to keep trying to stow away on a truck or to jump on to a train entering the Channel Tunnel.

Dozens of refugees and migrants have died in such attempts.

The dire security and humanitarian situation in the Jungle – situated on a former rubbish dump where migrants and refugees first established a camp in the early 2000s – has long been a bone of contention between France and Britain.

Alain Juppe, the centre-right frontrunner in next year’s French presidential election, has called for Britain’s border with France, which was extended to Calais under a 2003 accord, to be moved back to British soil.

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The closure of the squalid camp is aimed at relieving tensions in the Calais area, yet the imminent closure of the camp provoked further flashes of unrest over the weekend, including clashes between police and dozens of protesters.

Dozens of people could be seen throwing rocks at police in images broadcast on Sunday by the French BFMTV station. Authorities responded with tear gas.

Around 1,250 police and security officials have been mobilised to ensure the smooth rollout of the operation.

Inside the Calais ‘Jungle’ Clinic

Source: News Agencies