France's straggling 'Jungle' migrants await fate

Gina DOGGETT and Juliette MONTESSE

Calais (France) (AFP) - Migrants left behind after the demolition of France's notorious "Jungle" faced a day of reckoning Friday after spending the night, with official blessing, in a disused part of the camp.

Around 100 migrants, including minors, wound up being allowed under police escort to sleep in shelters that remained standing in the former southern section of the slum that was mostly razed in March, a prelude to this week's clearance operation.

After thousands were bussed out over the past two days, the camp next to the northern port of Calais was virtually deserted on Thursday.

This allowed demolition crews to make faster work of tearing down the makeshift dwellings that had served as a launchpad for migrants seeking to reach Britain by sneaking onto lorries or trains heading across the Channel.

But scores of lost souls were still looking for shelter -- or refusing to leave the squalid settlement that has become one of the most visible symbols of Europe's migrant crisis.

"You can't say the operation is over when there are people left," fumed Anne-Louise Coury, the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) coordinator in Calais. "The state still has a serious obligation towards migrants who are minors."

La Vie Active, a government-linked charity, said about one-third of the camp had been razed by the end of Thursday, and top local official Fabienne Buccio said demolition operations would end Monday.

In sections that were still awaiting demolition, youths and some charity workers gathered over coal fires, preferring the more rustic conditions in what remained of the Jungle to the stringent rules inside the container camp reserved for minors.

A giant teddy bear lay face down in the sand, while flowers still sprouted from planters, a reminder of a community that had insisted on enjoying basic pleasures while awaiting its fate.

- 'Fleeing and waiting' -

"They spend their time fleeing and waiting," said 78-year-old volunteer Michel Van Parys, surveying the bleak landscape of charred tents and shacks gutted by fires deliberately set Wednesday by departing migrants.

The interior ministry said Wednesday that nearly 5,600 migrants had been distributed around France or accepted into Britain in the three-day clearance operation -- out of the 6,400 estimated to have been living in the camp up until this week.

Immigration authorities said a further 226 adults and 16 minors left Thursday aboard eight buses for accommodation around France.

But aid groups estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 fled the scene even before the evacuation began, melting into the region or finding hideaways in Paris.

The fate of several dozen children remained of concern late Thursday as the container camp for unaccompanied minors stayed filled to beyond its 1,500 capacity.

Around 200 minors had slept rough the previous night, along with dozens of adults still clinging to hopes of sneaking to Britain.

A spokesman for Britain's interior ministry said Home Secretary Amber Rudd had spoken with her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve to "stress the need for children who remain in Calais to be properly protected."

- 'Truck try' -

Most of the migrants hoping to reach Britain have fled conflict, poverty or persecution in countries such as Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan, and the authorities have said those who agree to be moved can seek asylum in France.

"The government thinks the programme (of distributing migrants to shelters around France) is attracting people from other places like Belgium and Germany," said Coury, the MSF coordinator. "It sucks them in."

Calais has been a magnet for migrants hoping to sneak across the Channel for over a decade, and many locals fear new settlements will simply spring up in the area after the Jungle is razed.

Calais Mayor Natacha Bouchart said claims of the Jungle's demise were "premature" and demanded "guarantees" that it would not spring up again, once the police had left.

As far as Afghan 16-year-old Jawid Tor was concerned, he was waiting for his next "truck try" -- which he said he attempted practically every day.