CALAIS, France (Reuters) - Bulldozers cleared mounds of debris and demolished makeshift shelters in the “Jungle” migrant camp on Thursday, and French authorities said more than 6,000 people had been evacuated from the squalid site.
Charities said hundreds of migrants might have fled the camp rather than take part in a program to rehouse them in towns across the country.
A Reuters reporter on Thursday saw dozens of migrants, including children, still in the western part of the camp, where the dismantling had not yet started.
The Jungle, a ramshackle, overcrowded shanty town, came to symbolize Europe’s difficulty in dealing with record inflows of migrants from impoverished and wartorn regions of Africa, the Middle East and Asia, many of them bent on crossing the sea from Calais to Britain.
Socialist President Francois Hollande, facing an election six months from now, decided under local pressure to close the Jungle and relocate its inhabitants in towns and villages throughout the country pending examination of their cases.
“By next Monday, the camp will be no more. It is already gone but the (demolition) job will be finished by Monday evening,” local government prefect Fabienne Buccio told reporters as earthmovers flattened the camp, where the evacuation started on Monday.
She said more than 6,000 migrants had signed up to be taken to other parts of the country as planned, and that matched the number of people who had been living there.
One high-ranking local official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, said the camp was not totally empty.
“There was panic over the unaccompanied minors, we knew we’d be back today to try to sort this out,” he told Reuters.
“And I think some migrants are still going to remain inside the camp in coming days.”
A British charity called Help Refugees said police had arrested some minors on Thursday.
Police patrolled the camp and other parts of Calais, where dozens of migrants were wandering.
“Lots of children are sleeping outside. We had a group of Eritrean boys, 13 and 14 years old, last night, who slept outside,” said Dorothy Sang, a worker with the Save the Children charity.
“Other children fled. They lost faith in the system.”
A young man from Sudan who said his name was Clinton told Reuters he had arrived overnight from Germany and was “here for England” as a final destination.
“But it is also okay if I can file an (asylum) request in France. It doesn’t matter where I sleep tonight,” he said.
Buccio said she wanted to make clear to any would-be new arrivals in the French port that the camp was shut for good and the rehousing exercise finished.
“It is not Calais’ role to receive all the migrants of Europe,” she said.
There were signs that some migrants might have fled from Calais to Paris to avoid being roped into official processing of asylum requests.
Heloise Mary, working to help migrants at a smaller camp under a bridge in north Paris, said numbers there had suddenly shot up.
“We’ve gone from 2,000 to 3,000 in two days with the closure of Calais,” she told BFM TV of the makeshift camp, where a railway bridge provides cover for hundreds of tents and mattresses.
The numbers of irregular migrants reaching Europe are sharply down on the 1.3 million who arrived in 2015. But more than 300,000 have made the hazardous Mediterranean crossing in 2016 so far, and many are likely to head for Britain for work, language and family reasons.
The British referendum vote this year to quit the European Union was in large part driven by worries over immigration, and stoked by scenes of the Calais migrants trying to force their way in.
Now that Britain is leaving the EU, right-wing French politicians with an eye on next year’s election want to tear up the agreement under which Britain’s border controls are conducted in France.
In the western corner of the Jungle, amid trash and the smoldering embers of Wednesday’s fires, a group of young teenagers wandered with a trolley, searching tents.
“We are looking for food because we want to make provisions. And we want to go to England!” said Awaldjan, 17.
Muhammad, 13, added: “We will make it to England, all of us.”
At the opposite end of France, Zefir, who said he had left wartorn Afghanistan after hundreds died in his village, was one of a busload of people to arrive from Calais in Chandourène, a village north of the Riviera coast.
”I am going to England,“ he said. That’s why I stayed in the Jungle.”
Writing by Brian Love; Additional reporting by Andrew Callus; Editing by Andrew Roche