Migrants waiting to be processed in Calais, France, on Monday, before boarding buses to reception centers around the country. CreditJack Taylor/Getty Images
CALAIS, France — The French government began its long-awaited clearing of the sprawling migrant camp outside the city of Calais on Monday morning, the start of its effort to once and for all dismantle an eyesore that has become an emblem of the country’s — and Europe’s — struggle to get a handle on the migration crisis.
Lines of migrants stretched for a mile in the cold along the routes leading out of the “Jungle,” as the camp is known, to be processed in a giant hangar. Buses waited along a side road to take them to dozens of reception centers scattered throughout France. Each migrant will have to choose between two regions, except for the island of Corsica and the Île-de-France region, which includes Paris.
Sixty buses, each carrying 50 migrants, were scheduled to depart the camp today; 45 tomorrow; and 40 on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the demolition of the camp is scheduled to begin. About 1,250 French police officers were assembled at the camp. The authorities are concerned about the possibility of clashes with militant activists, though not with migrants.
Most of the migrants appeared to be cooperating with the orders delivered by officials over the last few weeks in visits throughout the camp. Their message: The camp will be destroyed, the migrants must go, and the authorities will organize their departure.
The camp has been housing anywhere from 6,000 (officials’ estimates) to 8,000 people (the estimates of charities).
The Calais camp, supported by charities and activist groups, has grown over the past year and a half; for months, the government looked away, hoping the crowding at the camp would abate on its own. At its peak, 100 people a day were arriving, with as many as 30 a day coming in recent weeks.
From countries like Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan, they had crossed vast distances — including, for many, a perilous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea — before making their way to this northern port city that overlooks the Strait of Dover, clinging to a hope that they might be able to leave for Britain by hitching a ride on one of the cargo trucks that use the Channel Tunnel, or even by walking through it. It was largely a false hope; only a few migrants made it through the tunnel, and several of them were arrested at the other end.
Two men from Sudan said in interviews on Monday that they hoped to stay in France.
“The Jungle is no good,” said Abdullah Umar, 24, who is from the Darfur region and hoped to apply for asylum. “There are problems. Sometimes there’s fighting. And it’s cold.”
He added: “France is a good country. People from France gave me all these clothes.” He pointed to his new suitcase, which looked full.
Ahmed Adam, 24, who is from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, and once worked at a plastics factory, said he had given up on getting to Britain.
“You have to make a solution, because now the border is closed,” he said. “Me, I will stay in France.”
He said he had spent a “difficult” two months in the camp. “France is safety,” he said. “I came across the sea. It is very dangerous.”
Most of the shack shops and restaurants that had been erected over the past year and a half appeared to have been abandoned and were in a state of ruin. On Sunday night, vendors had all their wares out on the central path of the camp — toothpicks, dishwashing liquid, running shoes, Afghan flags — holding, in essence, a fire sale. Children yelled, in English, “Jungle is finished!”
The migrants will be sent to towns large and small, and given a time to apply for asylum. Some will be granted it; some will be rejected and deported. The government has already expelled hundreds.
© The New York Times 2016