France aims to clear Calais “Jungle” for the last time
The French government began the process of dismantling the migrant camps known as the Calais “Jungle” on Monday morning. French officials aim to relocate roughly 7,500 refugees and migrants to accommodation centers set up across the country. After earlier attempts, the government hopes this will be the time it finally clears the sprawling camp, which has tested the country’s top politicians and human rights advocates alike over the past two years.
— Gavin Lee (@GavinLeeBBC) October 24, 2016
Over 1,200 officials and police in Calais began the process of relocating refugees and migrants from war-torn countries like Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
According to VICE News reporter Pierre Longeray, who is in Calais, refugees and migrants began queuing up to enter the processing center at 6 a.m. Monday morning, two hours before the center was due to open.
By midday, the French government announced that 716 migrants had left Calais on board 17 buses. Officials have said that 60 buses are expected to depart on Monday carrying 3,000 migrants, with another 45 buses to be deployed on Tuesday and 40 on Wednesday, to carry a total of 7,400 people.
The process of leaving the camp began quietly and peacefully on Monday, according to the charity Care4Calais. “We are delighted the refugees are showing such calm in the face of what is great uncertainty and are trusting in the French government to look after them,” Care4Calais activists told VICE News.
— Refugee Info Bus (@RefugeeInfoBus) October 24, 2016
However, tempers began to fray as the day went on and officials announced that all the buses had reached capacity. The waiting has become an issue: Those on line have grown impatient, and the BBC reported that pushing and shoving had taken place as people sought to leave the camp.
Refugee Info Bus, a group working to help the plight of refugees by giving them access to technology and the internet, reports that a lack of information was the key culprit in much of Monday’s problems.
Amin, a 23-year-old Sudanese man, told VICE News France that he wouldn’t try to leave Monday, as there were “too many people at the moment, too much movement.” Amin said he would go to Bordeaux, to find his brother there.
The clearance of the camp in Calais is expected to take up to three days, with a crew arriving on Tuesday to begin tearing down the makeshift homes erected throughout the camp.
While the vast majority are willing to leave peacefully, a number have said they are not going anywhere, and will continue to try to reach the U.K. One Afghan migrant at the camp, Karhazi, told the AFP news agency: “They’ll have to force us to leave. We want to go to Britain.”
“I’m not getting on the buses; I have to go to England,” Ismail, a refugee from Afghanistan who’s lived in the Jungle for six months, told Guardian journalist Stefano Montefiori.
The French interior ministry has warned that it will use force if necessary: “If there are migrants who refuse to leave, or NGOs who cause trouble, the police might be forced to intervene,” according to a BBC report.
Over the weekend, police fired tear gas on migrants who lit fires throughout the camp in protest of the planned clearance. A group of 50 refugees were reported to have thrown stones and bottles in the clash with French police.
It’s difficult to get an exact number on the population of the camps in Calais, with the number fluctuating between 6,000 and 10,000. In late August French police estimated that if the camp continued growing at its current rate, the population would pass 10,000 by the end of September.
According to the charity Help Refugees, there were 8,143 refugees and migrants in Calais prior to the dismantling of the camp beginning on Monday.
The Origin of the Jungle
The origins of the migrant and refugee encampment in Calais on the northern coast of France go back to the late ’90s when the Sangatte reception facility was opened by the French Red Cross. The facility was shut down a short time later by then-Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy. The ‘jungle’ was established in the woods nearby soon after Sangette’s closure.
Over the past 12 years various camps have been established around Calais with the numbers of people living in them swelling and falling as various global crises saw migrants travel north toward the U.K. The number of people living in the Jungle spiked significantly over the last 24 months, as refugees from Syria, Eritrea, and Somalia flooded into France.
The migrants are being processed at Calais before boarding buses to transport them to one of 300 temporary accommodation centers set up across the country. The French government said it has a total of 7,500 beds available.