CALAIS, France, Oct 24 (Reuters) – France began clearing the sprawling “Jungle” migrant camp on Monday as hundreds gave up on their dreams of reaching Britain, a tantalizingly short sea crossing away.
Following sporadic outbreaks of unrest overnight, the migrants chose instead with calm resignation to be relocated in France while their asylum requests are considered.
By lunchtime more than 700 had left the squalid shanty-town outside Calais on France’s northern coast for reception centers across the country. Hundreds more queued outside a hangar, waiting to be processed before the bulldozers move in.
French officials celebrated the peaceful start to yet another attempt to dismantle the camp, which has become a symbol of Europe’s failure to respond to the migration crisis as member states squabble over who should take in those fleeing war and poverty.
But some aid workers warned that the trouble overnight, when some migrants burned toilet blocks and threw stones at riot police in protest at the camp’s closure, indicated tensions could escalate.
“I hope this works out. I’m alone and I just have to study,” said Amadou Diallo from the West African nation of Guinea. “It doesn’t matter where I end up, I don’t really care.”
The Socialist government says it is closing the camp, home to 6,500 migrants, on humanitarian grounds. It plans to relocate them to 450 centers across France.
Many of the migrants are from countries such as Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea and had wanted to reach Britain, which is connected to France by a rail tunnel and visible from Calais on a clear day. Some had wished to join up with relatives already there and most had planned to seek work, believing that jobs are more plentiful than in France.
Britain, however, bars most of them on the basis of European Union rules requiring them to seek asylum in the first member states they set foot in.