Thousands of refugees were evicted from a Calais refugee camp this past week in what is being called another consequence of Europe’s failing migration policies. Calais has always been a popular transit spot but has become dangerously overpopulated as the migrant and refugee crisis in Europe continues to grow. While authorities claim that the camp once housed over 6,000 refugees, aid and humanitarian groups quoted upwards of 10,000 people settling there.
The camp, known colloquially as ‘The Jungle’, sits across the English Channel from the UK, where many of its inhabitants hope to be reunited with their families. Many have been waiting for their chance to get to travel across the Channel, whether that be via the ferries that run out of Calais or the Eurotunnel, for months. Instead, authorities began a mass evacuation of refugees, putting them on buses and relocating them to over 450 different reception centers across the country to await temporary housing. From there, migrants will be given a short time to decide if they want to claim asylum in France- a decision that will make it exponentially more difficult for them to eventually move permanently to the UK to be with their families- or face deportation. Either decision means long term separation from their loved ones.
“I don’t want to stay in France because I have no one here,” a refugee from Aleppo, Mohamed Khalid, told Al Jazeera. “The French government is giving me a month to think about claiming asylum in France but I only want to go to my family.”
Evacuations, which started Monday, were described by French officials as starting out peacefully, with approximately 2300 camp dwellers leaving by bus. However, many volunteers reported that migrants were given very little information and warned authorities about potential confusion and chaos. It wasn’t long before violence broke out, and the camp was lit ablaze Tuesday in a “dangerous display of defiance”. Campers rushed to rescue asylum and immigration papers from the flames as they and the press were pushed out of the area. By Wednesday, ‘the Jungle’ was declared empty.
The panic left aid workers in disarray, and there has since been a huge concern regarding the fate of minors as the demolition moves forward.
“Children need to be registered before they can go into safe accommodation,” Dorothy Sang, spokeswoman for Save the Children, explained, also to Al Jazeera. “Last night we couldn’t get everyone registered. Hundreds of children spent another night alone in ‘the jungle’ with it burning down around them…children have nowhere to go right now.”
It is estimated that more than 5oo children live in or around the camp, many of whom are unaccompanied. The British government has said that it will take in approximately half of those minors, many of them young girls at a high risk of sexual exploitation and violence.
Despite Calais being evacuated, aid workers fear that refugees will simply regroup following the completion of the camp’s demolition. ‘The Jungle’ has a history of being adaptable, with migrants simply settling on unoccupied land or squatting in abandoned buildings after French authorities shut their camps down. With the refugee’s strong desires to make it across the English Channel in mind, there is little doubt that this time will be any different.
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