Calais Jungle closure: Demolition begins as registration of refugees slows

First day of physical demolition remains peaceful, but fears mount that there will be clashes in the coming days

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The Independent Online

The demolition of the Calais Jungle camp has begun as a team of workmen and riot police began dismantling empty tents and huts in a small section of the shantytown, amid fears that many of the residents who remain are unwilling to leave the camp.

A group of members of the CRS (French riot police force) and a team of around 40 workmen wearing helmets and overalls entered the Jungle at around 3pm on Tuesday, as social workers went from door to door encouraging people to leave.

Meanwhile the processing of refugees for departure was reportedly slower than it was on Monday, with the queues for queues for registration stopped during the afternoon, prompting concern that many of those remaining in the camp will not go to register and are unwilling to leave.

According to the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, 1,636 people were processed and moved to alternative accommodation on Tuesday. Among them were 1,264 adults who left the camp on buses to reception centres in nine different French regions, and 372 minors, who were moved to the temporary shipping container shelters in the camp while their cases are processed.

In total, 3,242 adults and 772 minors have been processed and left their makeshift home in the French shantytown since the start of Monday.

One trusted volunteer working on the ground said things were peaceful for the moment, but warned that there is a lack of communication informing refugees when their homes will be demolished, risking clashes when it does happen.

The volunteer, who asked not to be named,  told The Independent: "Around one third of people have gone from the camp, but registration was a lot slower today.

“People still in the camp are fairly relaxed at the moment. There’s no plan as to which areas will be demolished first, so they're not feeling pressure. The authorities should be giving the refugees proper notice so they can prepare for their departure. There’s a real lack of communication.

“Police have so far played a passive role. But tomorrow will be an important day, because as the demolition continues people will start having to leave, and some will not want to. The walk up to the registration tent is difficult for many of the people here. It feels like a walk of shame to them, because they wanted to get to the UK but haven't managed to.”

There are also fears that refugees have begun to seek refuge in areas surrounding the camp, in order to continue their pursuit for the UK after the demolition is complete.

A spokesperson for Doctors of the World, Pippa Hatton, told BBC news: “We’ve seen people before who have escaped into the forest where they won't be seen. I think people will try and disappear, at least at first, and then maybe go onto other places like Normandy that have ports close by.”

As the demolition crews and the CRS entered the camp to begin the dismantling of the camp, charities expressed concern about the safety of the refugees still on the site, particularly the children.

In a public statement, Help Refugees, a charity working in the camp, wrote: "We are concerned about the presence of a water cannon, particularly considering there are still young children on site.

“We hope the authorities carry out their planned work today with respect for the residents, many of whom still remain in the camp as instructed as they await their turn to register and leave.

“Many of the residents are vulnerable and will have experienced forced displacement at least once in their lives before so this will be a stressful time for them as they see the homes and community they have built destroyed.”

The first group of under-13-year-olds residing in the Jungle who had been identified as eligible to come to the UK under the Alf Dubs amendment boarded UK-bound buses during the afternoon on Tuesday, taking the number of children who have been brought from Calais to the UK since 17 October to  217, according to the French Minister.

While the move prompted relief from charities in the camp and the processing of unaccompanied minors appeared more organised than the chaotic situation on Monday, there were still concerns that many youngsters were still unaccounted for as the demolition began.

Refugee Info Bus, a charity working within the camp, said an unaccompanied minor approaching him who had been turned away from registering. In a Facebook post with an unidentifiable photo of the child, the charity wrote: “We found this unaccompanied minor earlier who queued to register from early this morning but was then turned away.

“He didn't know where he would sleep tonight, but thanks to our volunteers he has now been registered by OFII (the French Office for Immigration and Integration).”

On Tuesday morning it was reported that unaccompanied minors were made to sit on the floor while waiting to register. 

Global charity Doctors of the World wrote in a tweet: “Unaccompanied minors in Calais are made to sit on the wet, muddy floor and wait to register so they can sleep in containers rather than tents.”

Two fires broke out within the camp during the course of the day, but they were said to be caused unintentionally from bonfires created by refugees in an attempt to keep warm.

Women and girls living in the Jungle, who have so far remained largely out of the public eye during during the evacuation process, made a stand during the afternoon, protesting for their rights and asking for more support from the UK.

Before the demolition crew began their operation, teams of volunteers are reported to have removed useful structures and materials from the Jungle, which they hope to transfer to refugee camps in Greece.

Mr Cazeneuve issued a statement on Tuesday thanking those involved with the operation, adding that it had taken place “methodically and calmly” and will continue over the following days.