Clashes erupted between French riot police and refugees and migrants as authorities began destroying makeshift shelters in the makeshift camp on the edge of Calais known as the “Jungle”.
On Monday night, police lobbed tear gas canisters at residents of the camp who protested against the raid as about 20 demolition workers moved in to start pulling down the shacks by hand.
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As night fell about 150 of the camp’s inhabitants threw rocks and struck vehicles heading for England on a port road which runs next to the sprawling camp, while some wielded iron bars, an AFP news agency reporter said.
Police fired tear gas in clashes with activists who had formed a security cordon to protect the camp clearance operation.
While there were no reports of injuries, authorities said at least three people were arrested.
Earlier, about 20 makeshift huts went up in flames in an angry backlash as workers, guarded by scores of French police, began pulling down tents and shelters, while clashes continued throughout the afternoon.
“You can see that the protesters didn’t hesitate to set fire to tents and shelters or to throw stones at police,” Etienne Desplanques, a regional government cabinet director, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s not acceptable, and it’s normal that we’re going to restore security,” Desplanques said.
Several lorries and cars were blocked by the camp’s residents on the stretch of road overlooking a piece of ground which had previously been part of the camp.
The demolition of the southern half of the camp began after a court petition by charities to stop it was rejected last week.
“It’s infinitely sad to see the waste of so much work that we’ve done in the past months,” said Maya Konforti, of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants’ Hostel) charity.
Volunteers and aid workers have spent months trying to improve conditions in the camp, built on a former toxic waste dump on the outskirts of Calais.
Local authorities, who have promised that no one will be evacuated by force, say 3,700 people live in the camp, and that between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction.
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But charities say a recent census they conducted counted at least 3,450 people in the southern part alone, including an estimated 300 unaccompanied children.
“There are hundreds of children living here who are unaccompanied,” Ginny Howells, of Save The Children, told Al Jazeera, explaining that there is concern the children may end up in worse camps or “go missing” after the eviction.
The evicted refugees and migrants have been offered heated accommodation in refitted containers set up next door to the camp, but many are reluctant to move there because they lack communal spaces and movement is restricted.
They have also been offered places in some 100 reception centres dotted around France.
But the refugees and migrants do not want to give up their hopes of Britain. Many of them try to reach Britain daily by sneaking aboard lorries and ferries crossing the Channel.
“These people want to reach Britain and won’t leave. They will end up in even more hardship, particularly in winter,” Konforti said.
The demolition of the camp comes before talks on Thursday between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Britain has put substantial pressure on France to stem the flow of refugees and migrants getting across the Channel, and has funded a huge increase in security measures around the port and tunnel in Calais.
The Jungle has played into fraught discussions about Britain’s possible exit from the European Union.
Some opponents of “Brexit” say that if Britain were to leave the EU, the British government would lose the ability to call on France to stop the refugees from trying to make their way across the Channel.