Calais Jungle closed: Hundreds of children remain unaccounted for despite official closure

Between 300 and 400 children are believed to remain in and around the camp after ‘safe space’ accomodation designated for minors was reported full

May Bulman@maybulman
Sunday 19 March 2017 20:55
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Smoke rises over the Calais Jungle camp, as several large fires broke out in the near deserted migrant camp in northern France on the third day of the operation to clear it.
Smoke rises over the Calais Jungle camp, as several large fires broke out in the near deserted migrant camp in northern France on the third day of the operation to clear it.

French authorities have announced the Calais Jungle is “clear” and declared the closure a success, but charities and volunteers on the ground say more than 1,000 people remain in and around the camp, including hundreds of children who have not been through the registration process.

French officials announced the clearance of the camp was complete on Wednesday afternoon after CRS riot police carried out an evacuation.

Multiple fires with unknown causes blazed throughout parts of the settlement throughout the day. Footage and photos posted on social media showed hundreds of people walking back into the camp after the fires were extinguished, and volunteers on the ground have described the claims as a full evacuation as a “joke”.

Around 30 to 40 per cent of the shacks in the camp were said to have been destroyed by the fires, and a volunteer on the ground told The Independent many refugees had “lost everything”, including their documents. But the volunteer, who wanted to remain unnamed, added that much of the settlement still remains in tact, and refugees are expected to sleep there again on Wednesday night.

Meanwhile the authorities’ announcement that the clearance was complete provoked serious concern among charity and aid workers on the ground, who estimate that between 300 to 400 unaccompanied children remain unregistered and in the camp. Large number of children were said to have been turned away from the queues earlier on Wednesday due to reports that the container camp – designed to offer a temporary “safe space” for unaccompanied minors during the evacuation – were said to be full.

As police managed to evacuate most people from the Jungle to allow for firefighters to extinguish the blazes, more than 1,000 people were reportedly stood by the entrance and on the road leading up to the registration centre, including the hundreds of children who are said to have nowhere safe to sleep tonight.

Josie Naughton, of charity Help Refugees, told The Independent: “The authorities stopped registering children at around midday today, saying the container camp was full, and sent around 300 to 400 children, including under-13s, back to the Jungle.

“The Jungle was on fire. Everyone was just standing outside the camp. There were up to 1,000 people under the bridge, including most of those children. And there might have been some people around the other side of the camp. We don’t know.

“Children were running back into the camp to try and get their stuff. [There are reports] that the camp has been evacuated and all is fine. That’s an absolute joke. We’re terrified because there’s nowhere to put these children. They might run away. These children have been left unprotected.”

Dorothy Sang, of Save the Children who is working on the ground, said there was now a “real risk” that children will go missing and try to “find their own means” of leaving the camp before it is entirely demolished.

Ms Sang said: “After the fire evacuation people were standing around not knowing what to do. There were and still are mixed message flying around.

“These children need to be given a safe space to stay. Last night was the most dangerous night yet, and hundreds of minors were in the camp, including around 20 in a mosque that was burnt down during the day.

“The lack of information throughout all of this has created real panic and it’s been really unsettling for children. It’s dangerous. There is a risk they will find another means to get out of there. When the camp was previously partially demolished more than 100 children went missing. That’s a real risk right now.”

Volunteers and charity workers in both Calais and the UK have been desperately discussing possible solutions for housing the child refugees.

In an online thread on the Help Refugees Facebook page, people made suggestions on where to house the children. One suggested putting them up in hotels, saying: “Can we tag any volunteers in Calais today to see if they can try asking any hotels and organise transport and in the meantime we try and raise the funds?”

But Ms Naughton said this was not a viable option as most hotels would be full due to the vast number of police officers and journalists staying in Calais this week, as well as the legal issues that would arise. She said: “There is no clear solution to this at the moment. The volunteers are just trying to keep track of the people as much as possible. We've also been contacting aid agencies and MPs to try to get an official body to do something to protect the children.”

There have also been suggestions that the children might be put on buses and taken to different parts of France, but questions were raised over whether there would be space for them in the reception centres across the country, as they were never designed to accommodate the children.

Following the announcement that the closure was “complete”, the Calais Prefecture released a statement stating that the state is in the process of registering “all migrants present in the camp today”.

It added that larger machinery would now be used in the demolition process, stating: “In light of the number of fires that took place last night and continued until the afternoon, and for evident security reasons, we will use more substantial machinery this afternoon to speed up the removal of waste.”

The police commissioner in Paris has told the BBC the cause of the fires that blazed throughout the night and into the morning was as of yet unknown, but that an investigation was being carried out to find out who was responsible.

According to the Prefecture, 1,043 migrants were transported on buses to nine different regions this morning, and 133 minors have been housed in the temporary accommodation (shipping containers).

In total, 4,404 refugees and 1,200 minors are reported to have been registered by the French authorities since the evacuation officially began on Monday. It is unclear how many remain in the camp, but there are believed to be well over 1,000.

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