Calais migrant camp shows signs of hasty departures


Calais (France) (AFP)

In one of the tents due to be demolished in the windswept Calais "Jungle" camp in northern France, the migrants who once lived there had left behind several loaves of bread and a milk carton.

Outside they had also abandoned the clothes that were drying on a washing line slung between a tree and a pole, suggesting they had left in a hurry.

Arabic graffiti scrawled on the side of another tent, among one of the first to be torn down, said: "You may be able to find safety in a temporary homeland, but you cannot build a life."

All that remained of this section of the camp -- which once housed hundreds of migrants hoping to reach Britain -- was a pile of mattresses, blankets, clothes, pots, plastic bags and suitcases, dumped by demolition workers on top of the debris from the wrecked tents and huts.

Elsewhere in the Jungle the remaining inhabitants attempted to carry on as normal before reluctantly leaving, or making a final stand against their removal.

As authorities took sledgehammers Tuesday to some of the structures that once housed vibrant communities of Afghans, Eritreans and Syrians amongst others, some of those who had spent time in the camp spoke to AFP about their experiences in the Jungle.

One group of young men from Sudan gathered around a small fire they had lit to stay warm, smoking a water pipe.

"We are leaving tomorrow morning," said one of the men as he smoked.

But despite French efforts to clear the camp -- more than 3,000 people have already been bussed to shelters around France -- some migrants are refusing to budge.

- 'They will come back' -

"Why has Britain abandoned us? How will France house so many thousands? We want to go to Britain. I am not leaving the camp until the French police come here and force me out," said Sudanese 18-year-old Ali Othman, smoking a cigarette outside his tent.

"Whatever the French police do to me I will not apply for asylum here. They can detain me, jail me, throw me out on the street. I still want to go to Britain."

In the town centre, business owners reflected on what the camp, which has existed in a makeshift form since 2002, has meant for them.

Ali Charfa, the owner of a restaurant in central Calais -- the closest point on continental Europe to the UK mainland -- said that British people had avoided the town because of the Jungle.

"I have been in Calais 25 years. I moved here from Paris because I heard you could make a lot of money here, because of all the business the Channel crossing and the construction of the Eurotunnel would bring," he said.

"The migrants have never done me any harm, but people in Britain only ever think about the Jungle when they hear of Calais. So it makes them stay away.

"I think the situation will improve a little -- (it) will never be what it once was, but will be better than now.

"The problem in the long run will not improve though. They want to be in Britain. That will not change. They will come back one day."