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Chic hotels and horse races: Calais tries to shed its 'Jungle' image

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France clears hundreds of migrants from wood near Calais

© AFP | Police monitor migrants in Grande-Synthe, northern France, during the evacuation on September 19, 2017, of a makeshift migrant camp in the Puythouck woods where around 350 Iraqi Kurds where living

GRANDE-SYNTHE (FRANCE) (AFP) - 

French authorities evacuated hundreds of migrants from a wood on the northern coast near Calais on Tuesday over fears it could become a magnet for others hoping to head to Britain.

Some 350 men, women and children, most of them Iraqi Kurds, had been living for weeks in squalid conditions in the wood on the edge of the town of Grande-Synthe.

Hundreds of police were brought in to dismantle the camp as its residents were packed onto buses, bound for migrant centres in 10 different regions across France.

"At the last count there were 56 children present and around 40 women. I can't let this situation go on anymore," local mayor Damien Careme told AFP on Monday before the operation.

Grand Synthe lies 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the port city of Calais, where authorities dismantled the sprawling "Jungle" camp -- which at its height was home to 10,000 people -- in late 2016.

Over the objections of the central government, Careme had opened a refugee camp in Grande-Synthe that met international standards in early 2016.

But the camp, where 1,500 people had been sheltered, was destroyed in a huge fire that broke out in April after a brawl involving hundreds of Afghans and Kurds.

Careme went up against the government again more recently when he proposed setting up new facilities for migrants on the site of the burned-down camp to allow them to live in more dignified conditions.

But Paris categorically opposed the move, with the interior ministry saying Monday that this "would only encourage" migrants seeking to head to Britain, potentially leading to another large-scale camp.

For more than a decade France's northern coast has been a magnet for refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain, causing tension between the two neighbours.

Though the Jungle camp has been cleared, hundreds of people are believed to remain in the Calais area seeking to break into Britain-bound trucks or pay smugglers to help them get across the Channel.

Migrants have been encouraged to register asylum applications in France, but many are determined to travel to Britain for family, language or work reasons.

Another nearby camp, at Norrent-Fontes, was cleared of its 85 residents on Monday. They were taken to migrant centres in the region.

© 2017 AFP