France begins destruction of half 'Jungle' migrant camp
French authorities began dismantling half of the "Jungle" migrant camp in the northern port city of Calais on Monday, AFP reporters at the scene said.
Two bulldozers and around 20 workers began destroying makeshift shacks, with 30 police cars and two anti-riot vans stationed nearby.
The situation was mostly calm, although one member of the British "No Borders" activist group was arrested.
The move was a shock for volunteers and aid workers who have spent months trying to improve conditions in the grim camp, built on a former toxic waste dump on the outskirts of Calais.
"We didn't think that it would happen with so many police. It's infinitely sad to see the waste of so much work that we've done in the past months," said Maya Konforti of the Auberge des Migrants charity.
"These people want to reach Britain and won't leave. They will end up in even more hardship, particularly in winter," she said.
Thousands have gathered in the shantytown, hoping to sneak aboard lorries and ferries to Britain.
Local authorities, who have promised that no one will be evacuated by force, say 3,700 people live in the camp, and that between 800 and 1,000 will be affected by the eviction.
But charities say a recent census they conducted counted at least 3,450 people in the southern part alone, including 300 unaccompanied children.
The evicted migrants have been offered heated accommodation in refitted containers set up next door to the camp, but many are reluctant to move there because they lack communal spaces and movement is restricted.
They have also been offered places in some 100 reception centres dotted around France.
- Under pressure -
The demolition of the Jungle comes ahead of talks on Thursday between French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Britain has put substantial pressure on France to stem the flow of migrants getting across the Channel, and has funded a huge increase in security measures around the port and tunnel in Calais.
The Jungle has played into fraught discussions about Britain's possible exit from the European Union.
Some opponents of "Brexit" say that if Britain were to leave the EU, the British government would lose the ability to call on France to stop the refugees from trying to make their way across the Channel.
"We are carrying out our orders so that the migrants leave the camp and we will continue this work this morning... so that the destruction work can continue calmly and that the migrants are not under pressure from the No Borders activists," said local authority head Fabienne Buccio on Monday.
She accused No Borders activists of threatening staff who had been sent to the camp on Friday in a bid to convince migrants to leave the camp for official shelters.
Buccio said three-quarters of the shacks in the southern half of the camp were now empty after a French court approved the demolition on Thursday, rejecting a petition by charities to halt the eviction.
The migrants in Calais make up a tiny fraction of those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
They try to climb on to lorries boarding ferries for Britain, which they are drawn to by family or community ties, because of a shared language, or because they think they have a greater chance of finding work there.
© 2016 AFP