French authorities on Wednesday finished clearing the “Jungle“, a squalid shanty town built outside the port of Calais by thousands of migrants desperately seeking a passage to Britain, and expected to disperse the last of its inhabitants around France within hours.
The operation mostly passed off peacefully, although some tents and shelters were torched in a last gesture of defiance as the refugees saw their hopes of a new life in Britain vanish.
“This is the end of the ‘Jungle’,” Calais’ regional prefect Fabienne Buccio said. “Mission accomplished.”
Riot police spread out around the camp and fire trucks moved in to put out some of the fires, which sent plumes of smoke into the sky.
Buccio said about 5,000 migrants had gone through a processing center before being transferred away by bus, and another 1,000 were still queuing there.
Local opposition to the camp, along with criticism from right-wing politicians, had stung the French government into action.
Migrants fleeing poverty and war in the Middle East, Asia and Africa came to Calais hoping to cross the short stretch of sea to Britain by trying to leap on trucks and trains, or even walk through the tunnel under the Channel.
Britain refused to accept the vast majority of them — apart from a number of unaccompanied child migrants now being processed separately — and high fences were built to keep them away from the port traffic, but still they came.
Hamid, 30, from Afghanistan, said he had been among those setting fire to shelters.
“We don’t care about problems that are to come after this. We did it because we don’t want to stay in France,” he said. “We Will go to England and England only. It doesn’t matter if I go to jail here.”