TENSIONS were high in the ‘Jungle’ Calais refugee camp yesterday as defiant occupants braced themselves for today’s scheduled closure.
There were clashes with French police on Saturday night with many defiant refugees saying ‘we’re not moving’. Riot police fired teargas at refugees and asylum seekers after they started pelting them with bottles and stones in protest at plans by French authorities to move thousands of people from the area and then dismantle the makeshift camp.
French authorities handed 10,000 leaflets yesterday, telling refugees they must go. They told people to report from this morning to a hanger, where they will be taken by bus to ‘reception centres’ in other parts of France and given the ‘opportunity’ to claim asylum.
As many as 10,000 people, mainly from Africa and the Middle East, are estimated to live in the camp, including 1,300 unaccompanied minors. Several thousand have said that they will resist the riot police and troops if necessary. This morning machinery was sent in to clear the tents and shelters that have been left behind.
The French Interior Ministry said: ‘We don’t want to use force but if there are migrants who refuse to leave, or NGOs who cause trouble, the police might be forced to intervene.’ 12,000 police, backed by troops are expected to carry out the camp closure today.
• The first group of unaccompanied children without family ties to the UK arrived in Britain from the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais on Saturday. They came under the ‘Dubs amendment’ rules which allow particularly vulnerable children, such as girls and those under 13, refuge in the UK.
They were among 70 boys and girls due to be taken to London from the camp. The Dubs amendment was passed following the efforts of Labour peer Lord Dubs who successfully campaigned for an amendment to the Immigration Bill in April.
It allows for unaccompanied child refugees to be brought to the UK where they do not have family links but are considered to be particularly at risk. The handful of children brought to Britain earlier this week entered under the so-called Dublin regulation, which meant they had to provide evidence they had a relative in the UK who could be responsible for their care for their claim for asylum to be heard.
British charities, MPs and peers have urged French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to ensure the safety of children in the ‘Jungle’ camp during its demolition set for today. The signatories said in a letter dated last Friday they had ‘very serious worries concerning the security and well-being of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable adults’.
They added that: ‘All unaccompanied minors must be found shelter before the demolition begins, and for a designated ‘safe zone’ to be established in the camp during the dismantlement and that everyone eligible to join family in Britain be identified. They also called for independent rights observers to be present during the demolition.