France embarks on transfer of thousands from ‘jungle’
CALAIS, France — Carrying their belongings in bags and suitcases, long lines of migrants waited calmly in chilly temperatures Monday to board buses in the French port city of Calais, as authorities began evacuating the squalid camp they call home.
French authorities were beginning a complex operation to shut down the makeshift camp known as “the jungle,” uprooting thousands who made treacherous journeys to escape wars, dictators or grinding pover- ty and dreamed of building new lives in Britain.
Closely watched by more than 1,200 police, the first of hundreds of buses began transferring migrants to reception centers around France where they can apply for asylum. The camp will then be leveled in a weeklong operation. Hotels and even castles are among 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 held nearly 6,500 migrants seeking to get to Britain. Aid groups say there were more than 8,300.
The ramshackle camp in northern France has been home to migrants from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and elsewhere.
Throngs of migrants lined up at the registration center where they were separated by category, like families, unaccompanied minors or adults.
A group of Sudanese got tired of waiting and returned to their spot in the camp, bags slung over their shoulders and laughing. Migrants from the Calais camp known as “the jungle” arrive Monday at a shelter in Lyon. They said they’d try again on Tuesday.
But basic information was lacking for many. “What should I do?” asked a 14-year-old newly arrived Afghan.
Mahmoud Abdrahman, 31, from Sudan, pulled a black knapsack from his shelter to prove that he was ready.
“It’s not good, the jungle,” he said, complaining of inadequate food and water and filthy toilets shared by hundreds.
Ultimately, Abdrahman wanted one thing more than anything else.
“I need peace,” he said, “anywhere.”
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. Meanwhile, France will spend about $27 a day on each migrant in the reception centers, according to officials. It was not immediately clear how long they will be allowed to stay.
Some doubt the camp’s dismantling will end the migrant flux into northern France.
A 2003 French-British accord effectively put the British border in Calais, stopping migrants there and putting the onus on France to deal with their plight.
Various camps have been set up in the region of Calais since the 2000s. Now, some fear those determined to cross the English Channel will scatter and create ‘minijungles’ along the northern coast.