Sunday 25 February 2018

1,300 children living on their own in camp are left in limbo as French and British discuss fate

A migrant child is put on a bus by Calais careworkers Photo: Getty
A migrant child is put on a bus by Calais careworkers Photo: Getty

Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay

Even as the demolition process began, the fate of about 1,300 unaccompanied child migrants remained uncertain.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve urged Britain last week to step up efforts to identify and resettle child migrants.

London has given priority to children with family ties and discussions are underway with Paris over who should take in minors with no connections.

Britain's Home Office said yesterday it had reluctantly agreed to suspend the transfer of more children, on the request of the French authorities.

For now, children will be moved to converted shipping containers at a site on the edge of the Jungle before they are interviewed by French and British immigration officials, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Geneva said.

"It's cold here," said one Sudanese teenager who identified himself as Abdallah. "Maybe we'll be able to leave in a bus later, or next week, for Britain."

Armed police earlier fanned out across the Jungle as the operation got underway.

Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said that authorities had not needed to use force and that the large police presence at the camp yesterday was just for security.

Aid workers went from tent to tent, urging migrants to leave the camp before heavy machinery is rolled in to start the demolition.

The hundreds who volunteered to move on were each given two destinations to choose from before being bussed to the reception centres.

There they will receive medical checks and, if they have not already done so, decide whether to apply for asylum.

The far-right Front National party said the government plan would create mini-Calais camps across France.

Officials expected 60 buses to leave the camp yesterday and the government predicted the evacuation will take at least a week.

Many tents and makeshift structures that had housed cafés, bakeries and kiosks lay abandoned.

On the side of one wooden shack, a message to British Prime Minister Theresa May had been scrawled in spray-paint: "UK government! Nobody is illegal!"

Despite the calm, charity workers expect hundreds will try to stay and cautioned that the mood could change later in the week when work begins on razing the camp.

"There's a risk that tensions increase in the week because at some point the bulldozers are going to have to come in," said Fabrice Durieux from the charity Salam.

Others warned that many migrants who remained determined to reach Britain would simply scatter into the surrounding countryside, only to regroup in Calais at a later date.

"Each time they dismantle part of the camp, it's the same thing. You're going to see them go into hiding and then come back. The battles will continue," said Christian Salome, president of non-profit group Auberge des Migrants.

Irish Independent

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