Dozens of large fires have spread across the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais, destroying what has previously been the homes of thousands of refugees.
Riot police and fire trucks were called to the area to put out fires believed to be started by some of the camp’s inhabitants, which has become something of a ritual when some of the camp was dismantled earlier this year.
Camp resident Mahmoud al-Saleh told Agence France-Presse: “There were several fires overnight. Every time one was put out, another would erupt. It was clearly intentional. The firefighters came late. For a long time it was just us, migrants and volunteers, fighting the fires.”
A local government spokesman told France Info radio that the fires are believed to be part of a ritual, starting when another part of the camp was dismantled earlier this year:
“Some migrants follow traditions – we asked them not to do it – but they set ablaze their tents and their shelters when they leave,” she said.
After two full days of the operation, French authorities have relocated more than 4,000 of the approximate 7,000 inhabitants to 55 official asylum centres in nine regions across France.
Dorothy Sang, of the charity Save The Children, voiced concerns of the hundred of children who slept in the Jungle last night: “We know that hundreds of children slept in the Jungle last night, under the bridge, while fires were burning around them. We know that lots of them ran. It’s a really, really dangerous situation for children right now.”
“We are deeply concerned for the fate of hundreds of children who remain and who do not know where they will sleep tonight and have no information on what tomorrow may bring,” said Carolyn Miles, the NGO’s president. “There is no way the demolition can start until all children have been properly identified and provided for — to do otherwise would be unconscionable,” she added.
The French government aims to get everyone out within a week and hopes clear the site completely by the end of December.
Four people have been arrested in connection with starting the fires said Calais police commissioner Patrick Visser-Bourdon, who is in charge of the dismantling operation.