Video: Fires burn on third day of operation to shut down Calais 'Jungle'

Philippe Huguen, AFP | A burned makeshift shelter in the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, northern France, on October 26, 2016.

Fresh fires burned inside the Calais 'Jungle' Wednesday as French authorities said they were wrapping up a major operation to evacuate and demolish the notorious shantytown.


The operation passed off peacefully for the most part, though some migrants torched tents and shelters in a last act of defiance as their hopes of a new life in Britain evaporated.

Fabienne Buccio, the regional prefect, said it was "mission accomplished" for the operation to evacuate the thousands of migrants living in the squalid shantytown. “This is the end of the Jungle,” she added.

But charities said many unaccompanied minors had not been processed and FRANCE 24’s reporter at the scene said many migrants remained in the camp.

“There are definitely still people in the Jungle tonight,” said Catherine Norris-Trent, after walking through the camp on Wednesday afternoon. “I spoke to some of the migrants and they said they intended to stay there until the bitter end.”

A total of 5,596 adults and children have been brought in from the cold and damp of the Calais shantytown for resettlement, the interior and housing ministries said in a joint statement.

That figure includes 234 minors taken to the United Kingdom since last week, the ministries said. The transit centre on site remained open on Wednesday night for migrants wishing to be resettled in one of 450 reception centres scattered across France.

Earlier in the day, riot police spread out around the camp, and fire trucks moved in to put out blazes that sent plumes of smoke into the sky.

"Someone burned our tents. Maybe they used petrol or something, I don't know, but the fires spread fast. We had to run out in the middle of the night," said Arman Khan, a 17-year-old Afghan."I left all my things behind, I have nothing now."

Calais Police Commissioner Patrick Visser-Bourdon said an estimated 150 to 200 migrants were brought to safety as firefighters fought the blazes.

Riot police cordoned off the demolition area earlier on Wednesday while aid workers and government officials checked that the dwellings were empty.

Others carted away the debris and abandoned belongings – mattresses, multi-coloured blankets, supermarket trollies and so on – in small earth-movers.

On standby

Buccio, the regional prefect, said it was difficult to prevent the fires, which became something of a ritual earlier this year when one section of the camp was partly dismantled.

"Some migrants follow traditions – we asked them not to do it – but they set ablaze their tents and their shelters when they leave," she said.

"We told them not to do it, but some... do it anyway. We are on standby, the fire brigade is in the vicinity to guarantee security and to prevent the fire from spreading."

A spokesman for local authorities told FRANCE 24's Norris-Trent that the fires were more likely a last-ditch response to the evacuation.

“One theory from the authorities in the area is that this was a last act of despair, perhaps by the Afghan community who lived in this part of the Jungle,” Norris-Trent said.

Wearing hardhats and orange overalls in the morning fog, a team of around 15 workers resumed tearing down tents and makeshift shelters at the camp that has become a symbol of Europe's migrant crisis.

Located next to the port of Calais, the Jungle has for years been a launchpad for migrants attempting to make it to Britain by sneaking onto lorries or jumping onto trains heading across the Channel.

The town's Mayor Natacha Bouchart said seeing people queue to leave the camp was "a great relief" after a year in which police had dealt with near-nightly attempts by migrants to reach Britain.

But many locals fear more settlements will sprout up in the area once the Jungle is razed.


Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning