It has been a harsh week for the 8,000 refugees inhabiting the Calais “Jungle” camp.
Continuing an operation which began on Monday, workers ramped up demolition of France’s notorious Calais “Jungle” on Wednesday after fierce blazes cut through a swathe of the camp overnight, sending migrants fleeing for safety. Fabienne Buccio, the prefect of Pas-de-Calais, said it was “mission accomplished” for the demolition.
However his assessment may have been premature as charities said many unaccompanied minors had not been processed and BBC reporters at the camp said groups of adults remained.
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.
As recounted by AFP reporters, a new fire threw black smoke into the sky as several dozen wood shacks smouldered on a main thoroughfare of the sprawling slum. “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.”
Riot police had cordoned off the demolition area 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. Gas canisters, sinks, refrigerators and other metal objects lay scattered across the desolate scene.
The fires spread just hours after workers moved in Tuesday to clear the squalid camp that has been home to an estimated 6,000-8,000 migrants, many with hopes of reaching Britain.
A local official played down the blazes, telling AFP: “It’s a tradition among communities who set fire to their homes before leaving.” 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 trucks or jumping onto trains heading across the Channel.
Since Monday, 3,242 adults have been transferred to centres around France and 772 unaccompanied minors have been moved to shipping containers converted into temporary shelters in the Jungle, the interior ministry said. The numbers represent around half the camp’s estimated population before the operation began, according to official figures.
The authorities have said those who agree to be moved can seek asylum in France. Those who refuse risk deportation. The fate of more than 1,000 unaccompanied minors is of particular concern.
Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday that all those “with proven family links in Britain” would eventually be transferred and that London had committed to reviewing all other cases where it was “in the child’s interest” to settle across the Channel.
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However, not all are seeking to rush back. Many inhabitants of the camp attempted to break through the police line and storm back into the camp, which is being demolished by the authorities, according to RT’s reporter on the ground.
— Harry Fear (@harryfear) October 26, 2016
Sky News also said that migrants were returning to the “Jungle.”
Migrants are returning to the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais following fires during demolition at the site
— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) October 26, 2016
A migrant child, who was among those returning to the camp, waved a cricket bat and shouted: “Jungle is not dead! Jungle is not dead!” according to the British Express newspaper. “It’s chaos with these ongoing fires and plumes of smoke [across the camp],” Harry Fear reported from the scene.
“The police line was broken by migrants wanting to enter back in,” he said, adding that it appears new fires have been set across the camp.
According to the RT correspondent, the operation to clear Calais looks much like a failure, despite claims of its complete success by the French authorities. He said that fire brigades on site have been working “quite slowly” to put out the fires. The RT crew also noticed “uncontrolled gas canisters [at the camp’s territory], which haven’t yet been secured by the authorities,” Fear added.
According to an unnamed regional official, the authorities will be able to shut down the processing center, which is dispersing migrants to different locations in France until the end of the day. Fires keep burning in many locations around the camp as some migrants set fire to the camp in response to government actions.
— Jonathan RT France (@Jonathan_RTfr) October 26, 2016
The demolition of tents and wooden structures, which the residents had used as shelter, started at the site on Tuesday. Violent clashes between the police and the inhabitants were reported, with tear gas deployed by officers. The camp was set ablaze last night by refugees displeased with the demolition. The flames caused several explosions of portable gas, with four migrants arrested over the incident.
— Jonathan RT France (@Jonathan_RTfr) October 26, 2016
Thousands of hopeful migrants, many of whom are now homeless, are looking to cross the English Channel to find asylum in the UK have been holed up at the camp for months. Britain, however, only agreed to take in around 1,000 migrant children from the camp who have relatives in the UK.
On Wednesday, almost 40 councils in England refused to accept any of the child refugees evacuated from the camp.
Meanwhile, with the UN warning that the recent attack on Mosul may unleash up to another million refugees in the coming weeks, Europe’s migrant crisis is about to get even worse.