Workers escorted by scores of French police officers moved into the ‘Jungle’ in Calais on Tuesday, demolishing shacks and tents emptied of migrants being bussed to shelters around France.
The workers used electric saws to take down wooden shelters and earth-moving equipment to carry debris away from the sprawling camp that people have used for years as a launchpad for attempts to reach Britain.
The demolition work comes on the second day of a massive operation to clear the squalid settlement in northern France, where an estimated 6,000-8,000 migrants, mostly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans, have been living.
Around 2,700 people have already been bussed away to shelters around France and around 600 unaccompanied minors have been taken into a part of the camp where families had been living, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said.
The clean-up workers piled discarded mattresses, blankets, clothes, pots and suitcases on top of the wood and plastic sheeting used to build the tents and huts that hours previously had been home to migrants hoping to sneak into Britain.
Before the demolition work began aid workers and government officials went tent-to-tent to ensure the area had been emptied.
Riot police carrying shields sealed off the area.
Some migrants holding off their departure to Wednesday are still living in other parts of the camp.
The sprawling shantytown, one of Europe's biggest slums, was rapidly becoming a ghost town.
‘It makes me sad to see the camp in this state,’ said Marie Paule, a charity worker who started volunteering at the Jungle last year.
‘I have a heavy heart... but it's the best solution for them.’
Earlier Tuesday, scores of minors were awaiting their turn to be interviewed by French and British officials.
Cazeneuve said all unaccompanied minors ‘with proven family links in Great Britain’ would eventually be transferred across the Channel.
- 'We're doing their work' -
Britain has taken in nearly 200 teenagers over the past week, but the transfers were put on hold Monday.
The head of France's refugee agency, Pascal Brice, had harsh words for Britain's role.
‘We're doing their work for them,’ he said on French radio, reiterating calls for Britain to take in the Jungle's minors.
Sudanese migrant Ali Othman, 18, smoking a cigarette outside his tent, was among those who vowed he would not leave voluntarily.
‘Whatever the French police do to me I will not apply for asylum here,’ he said. ‘They can detain me, jail me, throw me out on the street. I still want to go to Britain.’
Officials fear that new camps will sprout up around Calais unless police remain vigilant.
Located on wasteland next to the port of Calais, the four-square-kilometre (1.5-square-mile) Jungle has become a symbol of Europe's failure to resolve its worst migration crisis since World War II.
More than one million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa poured into Europe last year, sowing divisions across the 28-nation bloc and fuelling the rise of far-right parties.
- 'Massive arrival' -
Over the past year, police have battled near-nightly attempts by migrants to climb onto trucks heading across the Channel.
Dozens have been killed on the road or while trying to jump onto passing trains.
Some have opposed plans to resettle asylum-seekers in their communities. In the eastern wine village of Chardonnay two dozen young Sudanese asylum seekers received a chilly reception on Monday.
‘This massive arrival of migrants, it's inappropriate,’ said resident Joelle Chevaux.
But elsewhere people turned out in solidarity for the migrants, with rallies attracting some 200 people in Paris and 250 in the western city of Nantes.
Back at the Jungle, 25-year-old Sudanese migrant Arbat said he was ready to move on.
‘I know my future is no longer here. I will see how I do elsewhere,’ he said.
Speaking in good French, he added that he wants to marry a French woman. ‘They tell me they are all beautiful. Is it true?’ he joked.
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