France Begins Evicting Thousands Of Migrants From 'The Jungle'
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
In France this morning, police have begun evicting thousands of migrants from a notorious camp that's become known as the jungle. This is in the northern port town of Calais, and many of the mostly adult male residents who came there from places like Africa and Afghanistan are pretty unhappy about leaving. Despite the squalor at this camp, this is the closest they have been to their final destination, the United Kingdom. Now, a lot of aid workers, like British teacher Mary Jones, are pretty uneasy about the plans for these migrants and how they might react.
MARY JONES: Sometimes, things can go a bit wrong when they understand that, you know, the place they've lived for a long time is going to be destroyed. And sometimes people take it on themselves to, you know, start a fire or whatever, so you never know.
GREENE: And let's turn now to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, who is at the camp. And, Soraya, just tell us what you're seeing there.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Well, it's interesting because we're not seeing any of the violence that we've seen over the past two nights, when migrants were clashing with police. Instead, what we're seeing is a steady stream of migrants who are coming out of this camp, going up the road to where police have set up registration centers.
You'll see aid workers and camp leaders who are helping guide those residents, a lot of rolling bags going past. It almost feels like it's an airport or a train station or something. There are about 60 buses here in the area that will be taking some of these migrants away today.
Others, once they're registered, are going back into what's known as the jungle. But those who want to go to England are not leaving and are not going to register - many of them, anyway. Aid workers say they may be hiding somewhere in this sprawling camp, trying to avoid the authorities.
GREENE: This sounds pretty orderly after a few days of these clashes.
NELSON: Yes, it's rather orderly and rather surprising. But this is what police said that they were planning to do. They wanted it to go like this rather than the way it's been. But the week is young. I mean, it's - it's something that's going to be going on over several days, and I think it's to be expected that, as they start to raise the jungle, that you're not going to have as much peacefulness.
I mean, if the police catch people, then it may not be quite as friendly as it is now. In fact, we did run into at least one of the Afghans who I spoke to who said that they were trying to get to the regular bus station to take a bus to Paris, which, of course, is not the way the authorities want it to work. They would prefer that these people get registered here and that they get sent to where they want to send them to in France.
GREENE: Where exactly do they want to send them? I mean, what's happening to these migrants once they get registered?
NELSON: Well the migrants basically go to the registration center. They're given a choice between east and west France. And then, once they've selected one of those regions, the authorities pick out one of the towns where they've set up refugee homes or centers. There are 7,500 some spots in France. The official estimates are that there are 6,100 or so residents in the camp. Aid workers say the numbers are much higher. And so the question becomes, if, in fact, there are 8,000 or 10,000, you know, what happens to the remaining 2,500?
GREENE: And, Soraya, aren't there a lot of unaccompanied kids there in addition to all of these men?
NELSON: Absolutely. There are 1,300 unaccompanied minors who've been living here in the camp. And 200 of them have gone to the U.K. they've been taken there already. The other 1,100 are being registered here. And if they want to go to the U.K., their likelihood is strong that they can make it - or that at least some of them will make it, because the French authorities are determined to help them.
They're very focused on the children, especially because, several months back, when they did clear part of this camp or attempted to clear part of this camp, 129 kids went missing. I mean, it's unclear where they ended up going. So I think they're trying to avoid a repeat of that.
GREENE: All right, talking to NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, reporting from the French port town of Calais. Soraya, thanks.
NELSON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.