, CALAIS, France , Mar 2 – The stench of burning plastic hung over the “Jungle” migrant camp on Wednesday as dozens of riot police moved in for a third day to demolish the shantytown in northern France.
Charred husks of shacks and smouldering logs marked the spots where half a dozen shelters were burned down overnight in the camp on the outskirts of the port city of Calais.
- The evicted migrants have been offered accommodation in one of around 100 centres across France, or in heated containers alongside the Jungle.
- But many fear this will end their dream of smuggling themselves across the Channel to claim asylum in Britain, where many have family or community ties, or believe there are better opportunities for finding work or education.
The blackened shells sat alongside the now-empty stretch of land that has already been cleared in the southern half of the camp.
It was not clear how the fires started whether they were acts of protest by evicted migrants, burned down by police as some activists claimed, or simply accidents caused by flying sparks from other campfires spread by the freezing winter wind.
Police, who arrived in about 30 vehicles, set up lines to push back activists, charity workers and the press, but were clearly under orders to go easy on the refugees in the glare of the world’s media.
“What do we do with that one?” called one policeman, pointing at a migrant who was walking into the no-go zone.
“Leave him only push back the whites,” came the reply from a colleague.
As clear-up teams, town hall employees and police fanned out across the demolition zone hoping people would leave voluntarily, a small group of activists and migrants clambered on top of one of the shelters in the hope of frustrating the destruction of at least one of the makeshift homes.
“The refugees have asked us to help out of solidarity,” said Rowan McAllan, a British woman who described herself as an “independent volunteer”.
“These people have lost everything and come halfway across the world. They’ve managed to scrape together a very humble little abode in these conditions and now that’s being taken from them,” she said.
– ‘Fear and uncertainty’ –
Police were heard shouting at still-sleeping migrants in their shacks that it was time to go.
A Sudanese migrant emerged bleary-eyed from his makeshift home, which for the past few months has provided shelter from the miserable northern French winter.
The basics of a home could be seen inside a mattress, hand-made table, even a salvaged leather armchair.
The evicted migrants have been offered accommodation in one of around 100 centres across France, or in heated containers alongside the Jungle.
But many fear this will end their dream of smuggling themselves across the Channel to claim asylum in Britain, where many have family or community ties, or believe there are better opportunities for finding work or education.
Thousands have been living in the Jungle hoping to pay their way on to lorries heading for Britain, but French authorities started to demolish the southern half of the camp on Monday, saying they were acting on humanitarian grounds due to the grim conditions.
Charities said several migrants from the demolition zone had been seen wandering out of the camp overnight.
“Who knows where they are going. It’s impossible to know the level of fear and uncertainty they are experiencing at this point,” said Tom Radcliffe of Help Refugees.
The migrants may have been heading for some of the other camps along the northern French coast, such as those at Dunkirk or Tetenghem where conditions are far worse even than those in the Jungle.