France will begin dismantling the “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais on Tuesday as several hundred more inhabitants queued for temporary housing in centres across France. More than 2,300 camp dwellers – more than a third of the total – left the filthy shanty-town outside the northern port by bus on Monday, with French officials celebrating the peaceful start of the operation after sporadic weekend skirmishes.
An interior ministry spokesman said that the demolition operation would start by hand and that the bulldozers would not roll in immediately in an effort to minimise tensions. For many of the migrants fleeing war and poverty, the closure of the “Jungle” marks the end of a dream to reach Britain, which lies a tantalisingly short sea crossing away, where most had sought to reunite with family or find work.
“We know the Jungle is over,” said Aarash, a 21-year-old Afghan as he made his way to the hangar where immigration officials are processing the migrants. “We will see if we can get on a bus today, but we want a good city, like one near Paris. If we can’t go there we will come back to the Jungle.” The young migrant’s words echo concerns held by some aid workers that migrants who remain defiant to reach Britain or become disillusioned with the resettlement process will simply regroup in Calais at a later date.
Nestled in the sand dunes, the Jungle is a symbol of Europe’s failed migration policies as member states bicker over who should take in asylum-seekers and economic migrants. Many have fled countries like Afghanistan, Syria as well as Eritrea and Sudan. London and Paris have been at odds over the fate of about 1,300 unaccompanied child migrants. The French government last week urged Britain to step up its efforts and resettle child migrants.
On Monday, British Interior Minister Amber Rudd said Britain would take in roughly half of the camp’s children who are alone. “Then we will have done our commitment to the French,” Rudd told lawmakers in parliament. Six months ahead of a presidential election in France, the camp and border controls with Britain are hotly debated campaign themes. Some right-wing opponents of President Francois Hollande want all the migrants transferred to Britain.
Meanwhile, the far-right National Front party said the government plan would create mini-Calais camps across France.