Migrants bussed out of Calais Jungle to all corners of France

Hundreds of migrants were being bussed to reception centres across France on Monday ahead of the demolition of the Jungle camp.

Migrants bussed out of Calais Jungle to all corners of France
All photos: AFP

Migrants lugging their meagre belongings boarded buses Monday taking them from the Calais “Jungle” under a French plan to raze the notorious camp that has become a symbol of Europe's refugee crisis.

“Bye Bye, Jungle!” a group of migrants shouted as they hauled luggage through the muddy lanes of the shantytown where thousands from Africa and the Middle East had holed up, desperate to sneak into Britain.

Around 1,200 police officers — some in riot gear — were on hand as scores of Sudanese and Eritrean men queued from dawn outside a hangar to be among the first to be put on coaches for shelters across France.

“We don't know yet where we are going, but it will obviously be better than the Jungle, which was made for animals not humans,” said Wahid, a 23-year-old Afghan.

The first coachload carrying 50 Sudanese left at about 8:45 am (0645 GMT), heading for the Burgundy region of east-central France.

By midday, several hundred people were standing in line and 16 buses were already on the road.

As the crowd swelled, police intervened to break up a scuffle and prevent a stampede but the operation was generally proceeding “in a calm and orderly manner”, according to Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

Demolition crews will on Tuesday move in to start tearing down the camp, one of the biggest in Europe where 6,000-8,000 people, among them an estimated 1,300 children, have been living for months.

Officials said they aimed to relocate up to 2,500 people on the first day and complete the operation by Wednesday evening.

Christian Salome, head of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants' Hostel), one of the Jungle's leading charities, said that those who departed on Monday had been impatient to leave.

“I'm much more concerned about later in the week when the only ones remaining are those who do not want to leave, who still want to reach England,” he said, estimating their number at around 2,000.

On Sunday night, the police fired tear gas during sporadic skirmishes with migrants around the camp.

Riots erupted when the authorities razed the southern half of the settlement in March.

'Is this justice?'

As the evacuation got under way some migrants were still clinging to hopes of a new life across the Channel, believing their chances of finding a job and integrating there to be better.

New graffiti on the walls of Jungle shelters and shops reflected the fears of some at seeing Britain slip out of reach.

“I lost my hope,” read one tag. “Is this justice? No,” read another.

Karhazi, a young Afghan, sounded a defiant note: “They'll have to force us to leave. We want to go to Britain.”

Risk of deportation

French authorities say those who agree to be relocated can apply for asylum in France. Those who resist face possible deportation.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of Calais port where migrants in January briefly occupied a ferry, told BBC radio he was “a very, very happy man.”

“It's for us really the D-Day,” he said, hailing an end to the “constant stress” of drivers fearful of being ambushed by migrants. Dozens of migrants have been killed trying to jump onto trucks or trains entering the Channel Tunnel.

Puissesseau warned that new camps would sprout up around Calais unless police remained vigilant.

The migrants are being divided into families, single men, unaccompanied minors and other people considered vulnerable.

A total of 145 buses have been laid on over the three days to take adults and families to 451 shelters nationwide.

British officials have been racing to process unaccompanied child refugees seeking refuge across the water.

By Saturday, the number of minors given a one-way ticket to Britain under a fast-track process for children that began 10 days ago had reached 194, according to a French charity helping in the process.

Hundreds more have been interviewed and many are still waiting for a reply.

They will be provisionally housed with other minors in containers in a part of the Jungle where families had been living.


Frenchwoman on trial for helping migrant lover sneak into Britain

A former supporter of France's anti-immigration National Front (FN) goes on trial Tuesday for helping her Iranian migrant lover smuggle across the Channel to Britain.

Frenchwoman on trial for helping migrant lover sneak into Britain
Photo: Calais Mon Amour
sneakBeatrice Huret faces possible jail time if convicted of helping Mokhtar — whom she met while volunteering at the since-demolished “Jungle” migrant camp in Calais — slip out of France under cover of night, on a rickety boat.
The 45-year-old is one of several people around France who have been charged with illegally assisting migrants in recent months. While none have been imprisoned, a farmer was recently hit with a 3,000-euro ($3,300) fine.
Huret's lawyer told AFP she would ask the court in the coastal town of Boulogne-sur-Mer to dismiss the case, insisting her client acted for “humanitarian reasons.”
She will be tried alongside three others accused of being part of a smuggling network, some of whose members allegedly acted for financial gain.
Photo: AFP
'Love at first sight'
Huret's journey from FN sympathiser to alleged people smuggler began on a cold day in February 2015 when she gave a lift to a young Sudanese migrant travelling to the squalid Jungle.
Before that, she had lived “a basic life” and voted FN like her husband, a border police officer who died of cancer in 2010.
Seeing the conditions in the Jungle gave her a new perspective on the plight of the thousands of migrants who flocked to Calais over the past decade in the hope of stowing away on a lorry bound for Britain.
“It was a shock to see all these people wading around in the mud,” said Huret, a dark-haired woman with kohl-rimmed eyes, told AFP in an interview earlier this month.
She began volunteering at the camp soon afterwards and a year later met 37-year-old Mokhtar, who was among a group of Iranians who sewed their mouths shut in protest over the demolition of the southern half of the makeshift camp in March 2016.
When they first met, he spoke English but no French and her English was at best rudimentary. “It was just 'hello, thank you, goodbye', so I didn't speak to him immediately,” she said.
“He got up to get me some tea. You got a sense of someone who was very gentle, very calm and then his look… it was love at first sight,” said Huret.
With the help of Google Translate the pair struck up a relationship and after a few months he came to stay with her, her 76-year-old mother and 19-year-old son while continuing to seeking passage to Britain.
After a failed bid to stow away on a lorry crossing the sea, Mokhtar enlisted her help in another, desperate plan.
She agreed to buy a small boat for 1,000 euros ($1,119) and on June 11, 2016 towed it to a beach from which he and two friends took off across the treacherous Channel.
The boat sprung a leak en route but the trio arrived safely after being rescued by the British coastguard.
Huret, however, soon found herself in trouble. Two months after the crossing, she was arrested and charged with being part of a migrant smuggling network.
Race for film rights
“I brought a boat to a beach. That's it. I did it out of love… I didn't profit from it,” she wrote in “Calais Mon Amour”, a book about their romance for which several film-makers are vying to acquire the rights.
The couple have kept up their relationship over the past year, with Huret regularly crossing the Channel to visit Mokhtar in the northern English city of Sheffield where the former teacher has obtained a work permit.
She is one of several people to appear in court in recent months charged with illegally assisting migrants who have travelled up through Europe after crossing the Mediterranean in flimsy boats or stowing away in trucks travelling overland from Turkey.
Since demolishing the Jungle camp in October French authorities have taken a stern line on illegal migration, accusing activists who provide assistance to homeless foreigners of creating a “pull” effect.
In February, a 37-year-old olive farmer in southern France was put on trial for helping African migrants cross the border from Italy and giving them accommodation.
Cedric Herrou was let off with a suspended fine of €3,000 ($3,300) but was re-arrested last week for continuing to assist migrants seeking shelter.