PARIS: French President Francois Hollande on Saturday urged Britain to take in 1,500 unaccompanied minors from the “Jungle” as officials stepped up efforts to finish demolishing the almost-deserted Calais migrant camp.
Hailing the evacuation of the sprawling encampment, Hollande vowed that France would not accept the emergence of any more makeshift camps, which have become a glaring symbol of Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
He pledged youngsters left at a container camp near the site would be dispersed around the country, with the hope that they would eventually be taken in by Britain.
“We had to rise to the challenge of the refugee issue. We could not tolerate the camp and we will not tolerate any others,” he said while visiting a reception centre in Doue-la-Fontaine in western France.
“There are 1,500 unaccompanied minors left in Calais and they will be very quickly dispatched to other (reception) centres,” he added.
Hollande said he had spoken to Prime Minister Theresa May to ensure that British officials would “accompany these minors to these centres and would play their part in subsequently welcoming them to the United Kingdom”.
A British government spokeswoman said it was committed to working with France to protect the children in Calais and transfer eligible children as soon as possible.
“We have already transferred a considerable number of unaccompanied minors to the UK so far this year, and as the home secretary told parliament this week, several hundred more children and young people will be brought to the UK in the coming days and weeks,” she said.
Britain’s Help Refugees charity estimated that as of late Friday there remained more than 1,000 unaccompanied children living in the container camp.
Since mid-October, Britain has taken in 274 children from the Jungle, mostly youngsters with relatives already living in the country.
– New migration wave –
Meanwhile in Calais, three huge diggers moved in to clear the debris of makeshift dwellings in the northern section of the camp which until Tuesday had been home to between 6,000 and 8,000 migrants.
Many tents and shacks had been ravaged as huge fires ripped through the camp on Wednesday. Around a dozen riot police trucks were posted at the camp’s entrance, where skips were in place to take away piles of debris.
Officials hope to complete the clearance by Monday night and on Saturday morning there was little sign of life except workmen and police.
Migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Sudan and Eritrea had flocked to the camp near the northern port of Calais in the hope of making it across the Channel to Britain.
Clare Moseley, founder of British charity Care4Calais, expressed concern for those who had been evacuated.
“We are worried about what happens next — there will be a multitude of small camps where conditions are even worse than in the Jungle,” she said.
Many Calais locals also fear the Jungle will simply spring back up once the current clearance operation is over.
In an illustration of the ongoing nature of the problem, more than 2,000 newly-arrived migrants have set up camp in northeastern Paris where hundreds of igloo tents have popped up along a 700-metre (yard) stretch of Avenue de Flandres, a tree-lined boulevard leading towards the city centre.
But Hollande said they too would be evacuated.
“Those who have gone to Paris are not people who have come from Calais. There are perhaps a few,” he said, describing them as part of “a new migration wave of people coming from Libya in recent weeks and months”.
“We are going to do the same as we did in Calais,” the French leader said, meaning makeshift camps in Paris would also be cleared.
“I have been perfectly clear: those who have a right to claim asylum will go to welcome and orientation centres, and those who don’t will be shown the door,” he said, referring to their imminent deportations.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that the Paris camp would be “handled” next week.