France clears the 'Jungle' refugee camp in Calais

In what French officials are characterizing as a humanitarian operation, authorities are closing down the slum-like camp in Calais, beginning Monday.

Emilio Morenatti/AP
Police officers stand by as migrants line-up to register at a processing centre in the makeshift migrant camp known as 'the jungle' near Calais, northern France, on Monday. French authorities say the closure of the slum-like camp in Calais will start on Monday and will last approximatively a week, what they describe as a 'humanitarian' operation.

Since its inception, many of "the Jungle's" more than 6,500 residents have tried hopping trucks and cargo ships headed toward Britain in a desperate attempt to flee the refugee camp. 

On Monday, those same residents lined up calmly, bags in hand, to board buses that would take them to reception centers around France to apply for asylum. 

"The Jungle," a massive shantytown that sprang up 18 months ago in the French port city of Calais, began a controversial days-long mass evacuation on Monday, marking the beginning of the end for the infamous camp. Officials predicted that 2,500 people would be relocated by the end of the first day. 

The Jungle is officially home to about 6,500 refugees fleeing war, dictators, or extreme poverty, according to camp authorities. But aid groups say the population of the camp is at least 8,300, with some estimates as high as 10,000. 

As Colette Davidson reported for The Christian Science Monitor last year: 

According to the UNHCR, there are nearly 60 million displaced people in the world, more than 10 million of whom live in a protracted situation – defined as someone who has lived in exile for five years or longer.

For those living in refugee camps, the goal is either to return home, settle in the host country, or accept settlement in a third country. But makeshift camps like the Jungle, whose occupants are mostly from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, and Sudan, are becoming less and less temporary.

As of October 2015, the camp boasted more than 30 makeshift restaurants, eight mosques, two churches, a library, and a barbershop, Ms. Davidson reported.

Now, after all its residents have been relocated, the hundreds of tents and other rudimentary structures that make up the Jungle will be bulldozed, and their occupants left to make some difficult choices. 

The buses will take migrants to reception centers around France to apply for asylum, officials say. But a study by the Refugee Rights Data Project found that as many as 69 percent of the camp's 1,300 child migrants do not plan to leave the area when the camp is closed, planning instead to sleep on the streets of Calais. 

Officials say there will be a solution for each migrant living in the camp. But many adult refugees also face uncertain futures, as some could be expelled from France if sent to a reception center. EU rules require that an asylum seeker's fingerprints be taken at his or her first point of entry into the EU. But if it is discovered that a seeker has been previously arrested in another EU country – a frequent occurrence for refugees trying to cross borders – the country where he or she is applying for asylum can reject the application.

With the fate of many of the Jungle's former occupants yet unknown, some say they doubt that closing the camp will provide a permanent solution. 

"Each time they dismantle part of the camp it's the same thing. You're going to see them go into hiding and then come back," Christian Salome, the president of nonprofit group L'Auberge des Migrants, told Reuters. "The battles will continue." 

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press. 

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