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Calais Jungle: Around 2,000 residents leave as first day of exodus nears end

Published 24/10/2016

Thousands of refugees and migrants have packed their bags as the first day of the Calais Jungle mass exodus draws to a close, French officials believe.

Approximately two thousand camp residents, including an estimated 300 minors, will have passed through the registration centre on the fringe of the squalid camp by the end of Monday, a spokesman for the French Interior said.

Some 39 buses so far have been sent to regions all over France except Paris and Corsica.

Crowds carrying rucksacks, holdalls and wheelie-bags, many with scarves over their faces, queued to register for accommodation centres elsewhere after being told they must leave the camp or risk arrest and deportation.

People in the queues said they had no idea where they were going but many seemed resigned to leaving the squalid camp, where demolition work is expected to begin on Tuesday.

Clare Moseley, the founder of refugee crisis charity Care4Calais told the Press Association the volume of people wishing to leave "clearly was not a problem anyone expected to have".

She said: "It's a little bit strange, I just don't think anyone expected that kind of end to it." The charity supplied people with thousands of rucksacks over the weekend and worked to prepare them psychologically for Monday's mass eviction.

Shortly before midday, at least 50 armed riot police marched in to control the crowd, as people started to push and shove at the front. While small scuffles broke out and punches were thrown, most people waited patiently, crammed inside the barriers, which police then widened to give them more space.

The general atmosphere was less volatile than after-dark scenes at the weekend when violent clashes saw camp residents throwing stones at French riot police on the perimeter, who fought back by firing tear gas.

An officer on the ground said around 1,250 police and gendarmes have been drafted in to ensure the eviction runs smoothly.

Those who travel to reception centres have been told they will have to claim asylum in France within a set period of time or face deportation.

Passengers on the first few buses waved at the media as they were driven out of the gated warehouse area on the fringe of the camp with a police motorcycle escort. Aziz, from Darfur, Sudan, said he was happy to leave the camp, where he has spent the last four months.

The 27-year-old told the Press Association: "I don't like this place at all because I want to go to a city area." Asked if he was worried, he said: "I'm feeling not worried, not happy at all. I never laugh, I never cry. Just nothing, but I want to go from this place."

He said he would claim asylum in France and is hoping to go to the west of the country.

Speaking of his home, he said: "In Sudan there is insecurity, there is war, there is a terrible situation, discrimination ... it is not possible to stay."

Those who pass through the registration centre will be sorted into groups of families, minors, vulnerable or ill people and others travelling alone and given coloured wristbands depending on which region they say they would like to be sent to.

Aid workers have advised refugees and migrants to register for the buses together as they believe this will give certain groups of friends or communities the best chance of not being separated.

A further 85 buses are expected to arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday, with officials saying the entire operation will last at least a week.

Unaccompanied minors are the only group permitted to stay in Calais, where they will be taken to shipping containers with bunk beds within a secure area of the camp. The Help Refugees charity reported that the Home Office had today been unable to register children eligible to come to the UK.

It said the "chaotic set-up" had meant minors already living in the containers had been forced to vacate them and register at the warehouse only to be sent straight back after, which was "extremely distressing and confusing" for them.

Laura Griffiths, from Safe Passage UK, said there were an estimated 900 unaccompanied minors in the camp. Doctors of the World UK reported the atmosphere inside the camp as "a mixed bag of relief, confusion, disappointment and anguish".

A spokeswoman in the ground said: "Walking around, we've come across many youngsters with no idea where to go or who to speak to. It's unnerving that we're unable to offer much advice, as we too are in the dark."

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shas Sheehan criticised the French authorities for failing to prioritise children, saying their actions were "too little, too late".

She said: "What we are seeing today is what I expected: minors are being pushed to one side and they are having to get to the back of the queue. "They should have been processed first and moved out of harm's way and this is not satisfactory."

Press Association

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