Heavily armed French riot-police guarded bulldozers tasked with clearing sections of the makeshift Calais migrant camp two days after activists burned down two vehicles in protest at new permanent housing
Under heavy police guard, bulldozers on Monday started demolishing sections of “the Jungle” refugee camp in Calais that was home to an estimated 1,600 people.
British charities and volunteers from around the world had been working around the clock to remove shelters and salvage families’ possessions ahead of the clearance operation.
French authorities are clearing hundreds of tents set up 100 metres from a busy motorway – the scene of clashes between police and migrants hoping to sneak onto a truck and cross the Channel to Britain via the port.
At first, migrants and refugees were told to leave eviction the area by Friday but the deadline was pushed back following requests by charities for more time.
The clearance operation, which local associations said was proceeding “calmly” came two days after bulldozers were burnt, amid widespread refusal by the refugees to move into a new container camp.
The blaze saw vehicles parked on the edge of the camp completely destroyed on Friday night. Several of the first containers put in place last week were scrawled with slogans such as “F— Cameron” and “F— government,” and “Gas Chamber”, sparking rumours that British No Borders activists were behind the arson.
There have been no arrests.
French authorities have said they plan to destroy the tents or makeshift huts of an estimated 1,600 people, roughly a third of up to 5,000 migrants who are using the camp as a base while they attempt to cross the reach the UK.
The French government wants those evicted to move into converted shipping containers that have been equipped with heating, electricity and a hi-tech entry code system.
But many migrants are reluctant to leave the tents, cafés and shops they have set up in the Jungle, and are suspicious about the new camp, which is surrounded by barbed wire and requires a fingerprint scan to come and go.
Monday’s clearance was just the beginning of a two-week operation, with the local state prefect saying that the aim was for police to better be able to see migrants who leave the camp and try and reach the closed port-bound motorway.
The calm scenes were a huge improvement on a similar demolition in November, when police used tear gas and batons to remove refugees at 7am, leaving them no time to move out.
The operation came as David Cameron was urged to act on the “humanitarian crisis” in the Calais Jungle by Game Of Thrones actress Oona Chaplin, who has spent time volunteering in the camp.
Ms Chaplin, granddaughter of Charlie Chaplin, told the Prime Minister he should visit the camp and speak to refugees, after she attended a memorial service in London.
At the same time, a London court heard that four young Syrian refugees living in the Jungle should be reunited with their families in Britain and escape the “living hell” of the Calais refugee camp.
The four young men, who cannot be named for legal reasons, are facing “intolerable” conditions and should not stay in the sprawling camp another day, lawyers argued.
The men, including three teenagers, all have siblings, legally living in Britain.
The Home Office has turned down their applications, but in a case that could hold important legal implications for many other refugees wanting to cross the channel from Calais, they have applied for the British Government to immediately take up their asylum cases, bypassing the French authorities.
This would allow them to live in Britain while their claims are considered.