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France moving more than 6,000 migrants, destroying huge camp

The ramshackle settlement in northern France is home to migrants from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and elsewhere

Published: Updated:

Carrying their belongings in bags and suitcases, long lines of migrants waited calmly in chilly temperatures on Monday to board buses in the French port city of Calais, as authorities began evacuating and dismantling 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 poverty 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 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 holds nearly 6,500 migrants who are seeking to get to Britain. Aid groups say there are more than 8,300.

The ramshackle camp in the sand dunes of northern France is home to migrants from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and elsewhere. After often harrowing journeys across land and treacherous seas, paying smugglers along the way, most reach a dead end in Calais, unable to find a way across the English Channel.

Harsh reality

The harsh reality of the move hit migrants on Monday. Some were happy to leave, others were confused or in shock.

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. They said they’d try again on Tuesday.

But basic information was lacking for many. “What should I do?” asked a 24-year-old newly arrived Afghan.

Mahmoud Abdrahman, 31, from Sudan, said he’d go Tuesday, too. He 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.”

Afghan Imran Khan, 35, risks expulsion if he accepts the French plan to move him to a reception center, because his fingerprints were taken in another European country before he arrived in France. Under European rules, he must be sent back to the country where he first registered.

“I will decide tomorrow (what to do),” he said.