Migrants with their luggage wait to leave the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, on October 24, 2016.(Photo: Philippe Huguen, AFP/Getty Images)
France on Monday began clearing out the gritty, squalid migrant camp in Calais known as "The Jungle" as refugees waited in long lines to be processed and bused to reception centers across the country.
The ramshackle camp, a symbol of Europe's struggle to control the crush of refugees fleeing war-torn Sudan, Afghanistan and other nations, is home to more than 6,000 asylum-seekers. France announced last month the camp will be emptied, and plans call for all refugees to be moved out within a few days.
Authorities moved out more than 2,000 people out Monday. More than 1,000 French police were on hand to keep the peace, and few problems were reported.
"We knew this morning that there would be a lot of people, and that's what's happening," regional Prefect Fabienne Buccio told Reuters news service. "There was no pushing... We had a particular concern for the minors, paid them particular attention, but it went well."
Calais, a port city in northern France, has a ferry port and the Eurotunnel, and therefore is a primary pathway to Britain. Most camp residents hoped to cross the English Channel, lured by the U.K.'s relatively strong economy and a language with which many migrants are at least familiar.
Thousands have attempted to stow away on trucks headed for the Eurotunnel or hide on Eurotunnel trains. Few make it to the U.K., however, and the vast majority of the refugees are bound for settlement in France.
Major Nurzei told The Guardian he was thrilled to be going to Normandy with eight friends from the same town in Afghanistan. Nurzei said he left his home country after Islamic State militants cut off the tip of his tongue and broke his fingers.
"U.K. is no good, too much of a headache," he said. "I like France. The U.K. take the children, but they don’t want the adults. We can’t go back to our country.”
Britain's anti-slavery commissioner Kevin Hyland has warned that many of the camp's estimated 1,200 unaccompanied children were turning to human traffickers to find a path to Britain. Hyland, along with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, called for special considerations for many of the youths.
Daniel, an unaccompanied 16-year-old Eritrean, told the Associated Press he has been in Calais for eight months, trying daily to jump on a truck to England. Daniel was heading to the registration center for processing with his cousin, also an unaccompanied minor.
“I’m not happy because it’s finished, The Jungle. I want to go to the U.K.,” he said. “I don’t want France."
Christian Salome, head of the charity Migrants' Hostel, said those leaving Monday had wanted to go.
"I'm much more concerned about later in the week when the only ones remaining are those who do not want to leave, who still want to reach England," he told Agence France-Presse.
The Save the Children organization called for a halt to the camp's demolotion, until every child is accounted for and found a safe place to stay.
“It is extremely welcome to see vulnerable children who have been trapped in Calais reaching safe haven in the UK over the last week,” Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, said. “But as night falls in Calais, we are deeply concerned for the fate of hundreds of children who remain, and who do not know where they will sleep tonight and have no information on what tomorrow will bring. It is unacceptable that the French operation to demolish the camp, which has been planned for weeks, now risks putting vulnerable children at greater risk."