Calais ‘Jungle’: Demolition of massive migrant camp begins

Updated 1:09 PM EDT, Tue October 25, 2016
CALAIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 24: Bonfires illuminate the night sky as night falls on the Jungle migrant camp on October 24, 2016 in Calais, France. French authorities have begun to clear the estimated 7000 people from the Calais Jungle migrant and refugee camp ahead of its demolition. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Jack Taylor/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
CALAIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 24: Bonfires illuminate the night sky as night falls on the Jungle migrant camp on October 24, 2016 in Calais, France. French authorities have begun to clear the estimated 7000 people from the Calais Jungle migrant and refugee camp ahead of its demolition. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)
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Story highlights

Workers begin clearing camp with excavator

Thousands are still left in the camp

(CNN) —  

A team of workers in France began the long-awaited demolition of the “Jungle” migrant camp on Tuesday, pulling down tents, shacks and other makeshift shelters that thousands have called home over the past two years.

CNN journalists saw a team of “cleaners,” as French officials call them, in orange jumpsuits and hardhats tearing down the temporary structures and disposing of migrants’ possessions, dropping mattresses, pillows and blankets into a dumpster with an excavator.

Opinion: How failure after failure let down refugees in Calais

Thousands are still left in the camp, and aid workers traveled tent to tent to make sure no one was left inside before workers come in.

Workers begin the demolition of the Calais "Jungle" camp on Tuesday.
PHOTO: DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images
Workers begin the demolition of the Calais "Jungle" camp on Tuesday.

More than 3,100 migrants have been bussed out of the Jungle since authorities began a sweep Monday, sending them to regions around the country to begin a months-long resettlement process. Among them were more than 500 children.

Workers were scheduled to move in at 8 a.m. local time, but Calais officials delayed the operation until the afternoon to have a security cordon placed around the camp.

The Jungle: What you need to know

Refugees get ready to leave Calais as demolition begins at the Jungle migrant camp Tuesday.
PHOTO: NnoMan Cadoret/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Refugees get ready to leave Calais as demolition begins at the Jungle migrant camp Tuesday.

France has for more than a year vowed to raze the 4 square-kilometer camp, but its requests to do so had been shot down several times in court.

The Jungle sweep in numbers

  • This is what happened on Monday, according to French officials:
  • - More than 2,300 migrants were bussed from the camp to other French regions
  • - The migrants were sent to 80 "orientation camps" where they can file asylum claim
  • - 400 minors were sent to temporary shelters
  • - There were 1,200 minors altogether; those left are staying in shipping containers for shelter

Authorities dismantled part of the camp early this year, but it failed to stop more and more migrants from arriving, with high hopes of crossing the Eurotunnel from Calais to reach the UK, just over 30 miles away.

The Jungle has become a gritty symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis and has been a thorn in the French government’s side. But to a tight-knit community there, it is also a symbol of determination and resilience – more than 70 business have sprung up in the Jungle, including restaurants, cafes, bars, hairdressers and barbers, and leaving is not as simple as packing up and moving on.

One shabby home with a sleeping bag for a door had the words “Please do not destroy my home” scrawled across its front.

Hundreds of tents, tired from months of wear, were seen abandoned as more migrants streamed out with all their belongings.

’I’m going to England’

The temporary shelters have housed thousands of people who have reached Calais after long and often treacherous journeys to Europe from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan.

The French government aims to get everyone out within a week or so, and to clear the site completely by the end of December.

But some appear determined to stay in the Jungle for now, at almost any cost. A handful of people were involved in skirmishes with riot police at the site Monday evening, throwing stones at officers who responded by firing tear gas at them. Scuffles seemed to be breaking out Tuesday morning among a group of migrants surrounded by police.

Earlier in the day, two Afghan residents of the camp told CNN they would not leave the camp, because to do so would mean turning their backs on a long-held dream to make it to Britain.

“I’m going to England,” 15-year-old Afghan teenager Hussein said. “I don’t like France. My family is in England.”

Dumpsters were filled with what migrants left behind -- mattresses, blankets and pillows.
PHOTO: Bryony Jones/CNN
Dumpsters were filled with what migrants left behind -- mattresses, blankets and pillows.

His friend, who declined to give his name, said he would be going to the UK and would refuse to leave the Jungle.

It remains unclear just how French authorities will deal with those who refuse point blank to move out; before the evacuation program began, Interior Ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said migrants would not be forced to board buses and leave the town.

“This will be done on a voluntary basis and no coercive measures will be taken towards the migrants,” he said.

Britain is an attractive destination for those seeking asylum, as its economy is stronger than most of its European neighbors’ and many migrants already have some command of English.

Care workers bring child migrants to a reception point outside the Jungle migrant camp before boarding buses to refugee centers around France.
PHOTO: Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Care workers bring child migrants to a reception point outside the Jungle migrant camp before boarding buses to refugee centers around France.

Many have risked their lives boarding lorries to traverse the tunnel – dozens have died doing so – while others simply walked across before France and Britain agreed to build a fence and boosted security to stop the practice.

Migrants register before boarding buses for shelters across France, as part of the full evacuation of the Calais "Jungle" camp, in Calais, northern France, on October 24, 2016.
French authorities are set to begin on October 24, 2016 moving thousands of people out of the notorious Calais Jungle before demolishing the camp that has served as a launchpad for attempts to sneak into Britain. A major three-day operation is planned to clear the sprawling shanty town near Calais port -- a symbol of Europe's failure to resolve its migrant crisis -- of its estimated 6,000-8,000 occupants. The current Jungle camp dates from April 2015 and housed more than 10,000 migrants at its peak, although that number has dwindled to around 5,000 in its final days. / AFP / DENIS CHARLET        (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images
Migrants register before boarding buses for shelters across France, as part of the full evacuation of the Calais "Jungle" camp, in Calais, northern France, on October 24, 2016. French authorities are set to begin on October 24, 2016 moving thousands of people out of the notorious Calais Jungle before demolishing the camp that has served as a launchpad for attempts to sneak into Britain. A major three-day operation is planned to clear the sprawling shanty town near Calais port -- a symbol of Europe's failure to resolve its migrant crisis -- of its estimated 6,000-8,000 occupants. The current Jungle camp dates from April 2015 and housed more than 10,000 migrants at its peak, although that number has dwindled to around 5,000 in its final days. / AFP / DENIS CHARLET (Photo credit should read DENIS CHARLET/AFP/Getty Images)
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’Many children will disappear,’ NGO warns

Under an agreement with France, the UK has accepted 200 children from the camp since early October, British Labour MP Caroline Flint told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said that 800 children at the camp claiming to have family ties in the UK had been interviewed in the camp by British authorities, but stressed no new arrivals would be considered.