French officials close down migrant camp
Lines of migrants with their lives in small bags waited calmly to get on buses in the French port city of Calais yesterday, the first day of the mass evacuation and destruction of the squalid camp they called home.
French authorities were beginning a complex operation to shut down the makeshift camp, uprooting thousands who made treacherous journeys to escape wars, dictators or grinding poverty and dreamed of building new lives in Britain.
Closely watched by more than 1,200 police, the first of hundreds of buses arrived to begin transferring migrants to reception centres around France where they can apply for asylum. The camp will then be leveled in a week-long operation. Hotels and even castles are among the hundreds of buildings officials have been converting to migrant housing.
“This is an operation we want to be peaceful and under control. So far it is,” French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in Paris.
Authorities say the camp, known as “the jungle”, holds nearly 6,500 migrants who are seeking to get to Britain. Aid groups say there are more than 8,300.
The unofficial camp, which sprang up 18 months ago, was previously tolerated but given almost no state help. Aid groups, and hundreds of British volunteers, have provided basic necessities. It devolved into a slum where tensions bubbled, friendships formed and smugglers thrived.
The forced departure of thousands is an enormous task, planned for months.
Authorities have had practice. They dismantled the southern half of the camp in March, a chaotic, even brutal, bulldozing operation that drew complaints from human rights groups.
This time, authorities hope to restore some pride by closing the camp that has been seen as a national disgrace in a peaceful, humane operation.
Officials have said that there will be a solution for each migrant – though expulsion may be among them for those who don’t qualify for asylum.
GOING: Residents of the camp are led away yesterday