Part of a major refugee camp that housed thousands near the French city of Calais was dismantled Monday in accordance with a recent court order.
Last week, a French judge approved the demolition of the south zone of the camp, which is known as the “Jungle,” after denying nonprofit organizations’ appeal for the eviction to be overturned. The court allowed the destruction of makeshift homes but “the common areas, such as churches, mosques, schools and medical centers, must remain.”
The demolition was ordered by the Calais prefecture. French officials said the camp posed a large security risk to the city and created a drain on police forces who must be stationed near the camp. Many of the migrants hope to reach the United Kingdom. Migrant camps near Calais have been established and eventually shut down on government orders several times since 2002.
According to migrant nonprofit organizations, refugees were “scared” and “confused” when French officials entered the southern area of the camp at 7 a.m., informing occupants they had an hour to evacuate, or be arrested. Fabienne Buccio, head of the Calais prefecture, said about three-quarters of the homes in that area were already evacuated following earlier “encouragement” from French officials.
Video footage captured and posted on social media by on-site journalists and nonprofit organizations showed clashes between occupants and police. It remains unclear why French riot police began using tear-gas and water cannons in the camp’s south zone, but there were also reports of refugees throwing stones back at police.
Volunteers and nonprofit workers were reportedly blocked from entering the camp, but were able to witness the demolition. According to The Guardian, on-site humanitarian worker Caroline Anning said that camp occupants were “really nervous.”
“They don’t know where they can go,” she said. “There is a lack of information. Children have already traveled to the Dunkirk camp, where conditions are far worse than here.”
Dunkirk, a camp of about 3,000 refugees located 40 kilometers west of the Calais camp, is prone to flooding and has been described by nonprofit workers as a “sanitation emergency,” according to The Independent, with about one toilet for every 100 people.
Footage showed a worker moving through the Calais camp on a bulldozer on Monday, though French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve said last week the “gradual process” of demolition “was never a question of evacuating the south zone in a brutal fashion using bulldozers.”
The nonprofit group Save the Children estimates there are about 400 unaccompanied children at the Calais camp. Estimates conflict for the camp’s population as a whole; one charity, Help Refugees, estimates about 3,500 migrants from parts of North and East Africa, and the Middle East. French officials want to preserve the northern half of the camp and decrease the population to about 2,000.
According to The Guardian, refugees were in a panic over where to go after the evacuation, following the court’s ruling. French officials say migrants can move into heated shipping containers in the northern part of the camp or one of the other refugee reception centers in France. Migrant groups and charities disagree, stating there is not adequate accommodation for all the displaced refugees.
Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, a British-based migrant organization, was at the south zone Monday morning to witness the demolition.
“History has shown that every time they have tried to disperse people it hasn’t worked,” she said. “Common sense tells you that they are just going to go back to sleeping in fields and smaller camps.”