Thousands of people have been loaded onto buses outside the squalid migrant camp known as “The Jungle” in Calais, northern France. They have been taken to temporary accommodation in other parts of the country as the French government moves to destroy the camp.
Aid agencies had warned some migrants could try to resist being moved, though there were only a handful of scuffles with police on the first of three days of evictions.
Hundreds of migrants who grew frustrated with lining up for the buses headed back to the sprawling camp later in the day.
The operation seeks to clear the sprawling shanty town – a symbol of Europe’s failure to resolve its migrant crisis – of its estimated 6000-10,000 occupants.
The accommodation centres in provincial centres, which are intended to be temporary, will each hold 40 to 50 people for up to four months while their asylum cases are examined. Those who do not claim asylum will be sent back to their country of origin.
Almost two-thirds of those surveyed in the camp have said they do not want to be evicted and taken to French accommodation, while one-third say they will continue to try to get to the UK, according to the Refugee Rights Data Project.
About 60 buses were used to take up to 3000 people to the centres on the first day. Some 45 buses will come for a further 2500 people in the next few hours and finally, 40 buses for around 2000 people.
Police say they have set up a total of 12,000 homes for migrants around the country, though they estimate the camp’s current population to be around 8000 people. Aid workers say it could be far higher.
On the night before the evictions began, riot police came under attack from migrants protesting the camp’s closure, who hurled rocks and lit fires. Police say British anarchists are also attempting to disrupt the operation.
During the weekend, officials and charity workers spread out across the Jungle distributing flyers about the camp’s impending demolition.
Some migrants were still clinging to hopes of a new life in the United Kingdom.
“They’ll have to force us to leave. We want to go to Britain,” said Karhazi, a young Afghan who, like many migrants, believes Britain offers them a better future.
Didier Leschi, head of the French immigration office responded: “We have yet to convince some people to accept accommodation and give up their dream of Britain. That’s the hardest part.”
In London, Home Secretary (internal affairs minister) Amber Rudd said almost 200 migrant children have been brought to the UK under a fast-track scheme to transfer youngsters before the Jungle is demolished.
Several hundred more children will be admitted in the coming weeks, while Britain will provide up to $A57.8m / $NZ61.8m to the French government for border controls and to help ensure the camp remains shut.
In recent days scores of unaccompanied minors have been arriving from Calais because they have family links there already or under an international agreement requiring Britain to give refuge to children stranded in Europe.
Those likely to be granted refugee status and those aged 12 or under will be prioritised for settlement, Ms Rudd said. “This includes more than 60 girls, many of whom had been identified as at high risk of sexual exploitation.”