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Crews start dismantling Calais 'Jungle' as migrant camp empties

Denis Charlet, AFP | Reporters look on as crews begin dismantling the Calais "Jungle" on October 25, 2016.

Workers began dismantling the notorious Calais "Jungle" camp on Tuesday as hundreds of migrants boarded buses on the second day of a massive operation to clear the squalid settlement.


A first group of around two dozen workers began to slowly destroy the camp's makeshift shelters and eateries, by hand and using sledgehammers, according to reporters at the scene.

"A team of around 40 private contractors moved in, picking apart by hand abandoned shelters," said FRANCE 24's Catherine Norris Trent, reporting from Calais. "French authorities have not sent in the bulldozers straight away. That's a very deliberate decision, they're being careful not to spark tensions and avoid the violence that marred previous attempts to clear the camp."

The French government announced late Tuesday that 4,014 migrants had been relocated or resheltered from the Jungle since the start of the operation a day earlier to clear the notorious slum that had become a symbol of Europe's refugee crisis.

The evacuation operation, which the French government took several months to organise, should last for a week, during which migrants will be assigned to one of 280 reception centres across the country after being separated into different categories – single men, families, vulnerable people and unaccompanied minors.

The plan, which has proceeded mostly smoothly so far, is an important public relations exercise for the French government, which had to answer repeated calls to solve the chaotic situation at the camp.

Hardest part yet to come

The sprawling and crowded Jungle, which hosted more than 8,000 people – most of them young men – hoping to cross the channel to the perceived El Dorado of England, is a squalid mess of makeshift huts, caravans and tents.

Around 2,300 of its baffled residents were processed on Monday, under the obsessive glare of the world's media, with more than 700 journalists accredited for the first day of the evacuation.

The refugees, in groups of around 50, queued all day for their turn to run the gauntlet of a well-intentioned but coldly efficient process.

Surrounded by 1,200 riot police stationed around the camp, the migrants were drip-fed into a cold, damp processing hangar. There, they were shown a map of France, and asked to choose between one of two regions that would be the destination for their bus-load.

They were then tagged with coded bracelets, identity checked by yet more police officers, loaded on to buses (having shown their wrist-bands to supervising officers at every stage of the process) and driven away.

Officials are confident that another 2,000 people will be able to leave on Wednesday before the lion's share of the camp's population is evacuated by the end of the week.

“What we’ve seen so far is the easy part – the migrants who volunteered to leave and have been queuing up from early in the morning,” said FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent, reporting from Calais.

“There are others in the camp who are less willing to go, who don’t want to claim asylum in France – they want to keep trying to cross over to the UK.”

‘We’re doing the UK’s work for them’

At the centre of the camp stands a stack of converted shipping containers where the camp’s hundreds of unaccompanied minors will remain while their status is being clarified by authorities.

Many of them, from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, and Sudan, hope to join the 200 youngsters accepted into the UK in recent weeks; some have already been interviewed by British immigration officers in France but so far haven’t received any reply.

None of the migrants who spoke to FRANCE 24 knew what their final destination would look like or what would await them there.

Many were delighted to be out of the Jungle, away from its smells, danger and uncertainty. But many still harboured the desire to get to England, where their chances of finding work seem better to them, and where many have friends and family.

Few of the refugees speak French, and many have a negative image of a country whose riot police are tough and uncompromising. Most speak reasonable to excellent English, "learned at home, on the journey and here at the camp".

But Calais "is finished, there is no chance of making it to England from here", said Simim, an 18-year-old Afghan from the northern city of Kunduz, who has been in the Jungle for more than a year.

On Tuesday, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said all unaccompanied minors "with proven family links in Great Britain" would eventually be transferred across the Channel.

Britain has taken in nearly 200 teenagers over the past week, but the transfers were put on hold on Monday.

The head of France's refugee agency, Pascal Brice, had harsh words for Britain's role on Tuesday.

"We're doing their work for them," he said on French radio, reiterating calls for Britain to take in the Jungle's minors.

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