French authorities began moving out underage migrants Wednesday living next to the “Jungle” in Calais to processing centers around France, as the government tries to bring a definitive end to the notorious migrant camp in this English Channel city.
Three buses carried a group of boys, mainly teenagers, out of the camp Wednesday morning. Authorities hope to move out all 1,500 unaccompanied child migrants from Calais by the end of the day in some 30 buses, according to the regional administration.
French authorities transferred more than 5,000 adult migrants out of Calais last week, but the fate of its children had remained unclear. Migrants from the Mideast and Africa had converged on the camp over the past 18 months in hopes of crossing to Britain. The filthy, lawless site, which migrants refer to as “the jungle,” had become a symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis and a source of shame for France.
The child migrants will be taken to 60 dedicated centers scattered around France where British officials will study whether they have the right to U.K. asylum, according to the Pas-de-Calais regional administration. The others will be put under the care of French child welfare services.
The operation has rekindled tensions among the youths and fears that it means the end of their dream of reaching Britain.
Four people were injured when clashes broke out Tuesday night between Afghan and Eritrean migrants in the camp, the administration said. Police used tear gas to separate them, and strengthened security at the site overnight.
Representatives of the British Home Office were in Calais on Wednesday to explain to the children what will happen next.
Britain has been under pressure to accept more unaccompanied minors, with the government saying they will accept more of them but not being specific about how many or how quickly. The issue is complicated by Britain’s recent vote to leave the European Union, which highlighted the public’s unease with immigration.
French President Francois Hollande said in an interview published Tuesday in La Voix du Nord newspaper, “Within the coming days, there should be no more foreign minors in Calais.”
Hollande, noting that France is assuming responsibility for the vast majority of Calais’ migrants, pushed Britain to take in more minors — both those who have family ties in Britain but also those who qualify for refuge based on the “best interest” of the child.