CHAMPTERCIER, France (Reuters) - Champtercier, a tiny hillside village in sunblessed southeastern France, was joined early on Thursday by dozens of migrants who fled their homes with a dream - now more remote - of reaching Britain.
The new arrivals were the first of about a hundred people being relocated to Champtercier from the “Jungle”, a shanty town in the less clement northern climes of Calais, which was a base for migrants trying to get across the sea to Britain.
As bulldozers this week razed the Jungle, a symbol of Europe’s fraught experience with the largest inflow of migrants in living memory, Zerif, who reached Calais from Afghanistan intent on reaching Britain, is resigned to being moved further from his planned destination.
“Maybe I am staying here, maybe I go back (to) Afghanistan, I don’t know. If French government gives me papers I stay here,” he said in broken English.
Zerif is one of roughly 6,000 who lived in the squalor of the ramshackle camp near the gritty port town on France’s northeastern coast from where Britain is almost visible across the sea and can be reached by ferry or tunnel.
He looked at least relieved to get a warm drink on arrival before dawn in a former holiday residence on the edge of Champtercier.
His plan had been to go to England, he said. “That’s why I stayed in the Jungle. I try, many tries, but no chance.”
Among the 700 villagers, some are happy to help and turned up hours before daylight to welcome the migrants with tea and a bite to eat at the unused holiday residence where they will be lodged pending examination of their right to stay in France or wider western Europe.
Some, such as elderly Jacqueline Dieudé, whose daily walk is near the spot where the migrants will be housed, are worried.
“I don’t feel safe,” she said.
Lila Santarnecchei, who works in Champtercier and lives in a nearby town, is more optimistic, noting that the local climate is more hospitable than in Calais.
“In Calais - I’ve nothing against the north, it’s a region just like any other - but I think conditions there are not great, they were all stewing on top of one another in their misery,” she said.
Writing by Brian Love