CALAIS, France (Reuters) - The French government is likely to move cautiously in clearing part of a shanty town outside Calais for migrants trying to reach Britain after it won a legal battle to start dismantling the so-called “jungle”.
A judge upheld a government order on Thursday to evict migrants living in the southern part of the camp although a few makeshift buildings of social importance such as a school and a theater will be left untouched.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said authorities would work with humanitarian organizations to relocate migrants to a nearby park of converted shipping containers or other reception centers around the country.
Thousands of migrants fleeing war and poverty, from Afghanistan to Syria, have converged on the northern port over the past year. Most attempt to climb illegally onto trains using the Channel Tunnel or lorries heading to Britain where they hope to settle.
Their presence has led to tension with some of the local population and permanent police deployment.
Regional prefect Fabienne Buccio told Reuters the evacuation would be gradual, with increased patrols of immigration officers meeting with refugees in the coming days.
“Nobody is moving and I’m not moving, we just have nowhere to go,” Pairow, 40, said. He, his wife and two children traveled for several months from Iraq before eventually reaching Calais. Britain remains their preferred destination.
Zimako, a Nigerian in his 20s, famous in the “jungle” for founding the first school in the south area, said the coming weeks would be difficult.
“The children who are coming into school ask me where they will go, where they will sleep, I don’t know what to tell them,” he said.
Charity groups believe around 3,400 people including women and children live in the earmarked area, more than triple the official estimate.
The interior ministry says 200 beds are still available in the container park opened earlier this year with a capacity of 1,500. Other migrants will be offered heated tents in the north part of the camp or encouraged to leave the Calais area by bus for one of France’s 102 reception facilities.
In an interview with Reuters, Calais mayor Natacha Bouchart said authorities would seek to reduce the size of the north part of the “jungle” in the coming months to enable work to start on extending the city’s port, a 650 million euros ($716.69 million) project.
“The city of Calais has lived up to its humanitarian commitments,” she said.
Editing by Ralph Boulton