PAS-DE-CALAIS, FRANCE/PARIS – Work to clear the last makeshift shelters from part of the migrant camp known as “The Jungle” in the northern French port of Calais was completed Wednesday.
Authorities have left just a few structures housing communal facilities such as mosques or canteens in the 7.5-hectare (18.5-acre) southern part of the camp.
Police had fired teargas to disperse protesters when the operation to raze the wooden and tarpaulin structures began on Feb. 29.
More than 1,000 people had lived in that part of “The Jungle” as they waited to try to scramble on to trucks waiting to board ferries or Channel Tunnel shuttle trains to Britain.
The migrants believe they have a better chance of finding work in Britain, and some have family ties there.
Some of the migrants have moved to more permanent accommodations in shipping containers near to adjacent to the camp, while others have headed for camps farther along the coast, but hundreds are still living in the northern part of the camp.
Migrants’ representatives warned the French government in a statement that it would be “unacceptable” to try to clear the northern sector as well.
The local authorities have stated several times that they want to limit the camp to 2,000 residents, but have stipulated that those who stay must move into the containers.
The camp made of containers can hold up 1,500 people and 400 places are also available to women and children in another center nearby.
Hundreds of shopkeepers and restaurant owners from Calais held a protest in Paris on March 7 to complain that they have suffered heavy losses as a result of the presence of migrants in the port.
France’s top minors’ rights watchdog has meanwhile urged the French government not to leave hundreds of children living unsupervised in the migrant slum outside Calais without proper shelter.
French authorities are now tearing down nearly half of the camp, which hosts thousands of migrants who fled war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Most attempt to climb onto trucks or trains using the Channel Tunnel in hopes of finding a way into Britain, their favored destination due to plentiful jobs and family connections. Police forces are deployed permanently in the area.
Genevieve Avenard, a state-appointed official whose job is to alert authorities to threats to minors’ rights but lacks enforcement powers, called on the Calais regional government to build by this summer a shelter for the 326 children who authorities say currently live on their own in the Jungle.
Local migrant associations say the number of children in the camp — some of whom are as young as 7 — tops 500 and more when including those living with their parents.
“Most of these kids only want to go to Britain. If you take them away, they’ll come back,” Avenard told Reuters in an interview. “We are still in the dark when it comes to assessing exactly who these children are and hence what can be done for them.”
Avenard said unaccompanied minors identified so far were mostly from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria.
A French administrative court ordered the Calais government in November to identify all minors in the camp and transfer them to child welfare centers. But carrying out the tally has proven difficult as new migrant families keep arriving.
“We need to understand these children, listen to them and make sure we can implement specific policies such as asylum or family reunions in Britain when possible,” Avenard said.
Around 90 children have the right to enter Britain legally because of family members already there, she added.
Earlier this month, President Francois Hollande said during a Britain-France summit that children in Calais with family ties to Britain should be allowed to travel across the Channel “quickly and efficiently.”
British policy is generally to take in war refugees, such as Syrians, only from outside Europe as officials believe that to receive people who have already made it to Calais would simply increase the flow of “economic” migrants.
A spokesman for the Calais regional government was not immediately available for comment.