THE mass exodus of refugees and migrants from the Calais “Jungle” camp has begun.
Crowds surged towards the warehouse where processing was taking place as police opened the gates just after 7am UK time on Monday.
Police vans and fire engines had gathered on the perimeter of the rat-infested slum as migrants and refugees queued in the dark to register for accommodation centres elsewhere in France after being told they must leave the camp or risk arrest and deportation.
People in the queues said they had no idea where they were going but many seemed resigned to leaving the sprawling camp, where demolition work is expected to begin tomorrow.
The atmosphere in the queues was in contrast to scenes at the weekend when there were violent clashes, with camp residents throwing stones at French riot police on the perimeter who fought back by firing tear gas.
The Care4Calais refugee crisis charity said it was hoping for a peaceful day after it supplied people with thousands of rucksacks over the weekend and worked to prepare them psychologically for Monday’s mass eviction.
Some 60 government-organised buses were expected to take thousands of the camp’s residents to temporary reception centres where they will have to claim asylum in France within a set period of time or face deportation.
It is believed they will be sorted into groups of families, minors, vulnerable or ill people and others travelling alone at a registration centre in a warehouse by the camp and given coloured wristbands depending on which region they say they would like to be sent to.
Aid workers were advising refugees and migrants to register for the buses together as they believe this will give certain groups of friends or communities the best chance of not being separated.
A further 85 buses were expected to arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday as the mass eviction continues.
French President Francois Hollande announced last month that the camp will close before winter, with its estimated 6,500 inhabitants dispersed around the country.
The site has become a symbol of his government’s failure to tackle Europe’s migrant crisis and a target of criticism from conservative and far-right rivals seeking to unseat him.
An emergency legal bid by several aid groups to delay the closure of the Jungle camp was rejected by a court in Lille earlier last week.
Despite efforts to reduce numbers by dismantling the slum’s southern section earlier this year, migrants from countries including Sudan, Syria and Eritrea returned to the camp.
Care4Calais predicted it will re-emerge following demolition as refugees and migrants will continue to arrive in the northern French port city.
The Jungle closure plan will see people being held at more than 160 reception centres in regions across France for up to four months while authorities investigate their cases.
Those who do not seek asylum will be deported. The move has prompted vehement protests from many local conservative and far-right politicians, saying they fear the consequences of having migrants in their towns.
But Mr Hollande has sought to adopt a stronger stance and called for more solidarity amid the chaos that has gone on around the camp.
People traffickers have gone to extreme lengths in Calais, with reports of trucks being torched, petrol bombs thrown and trees being cut down to block roads before drivers are threatened with chainsaws and machetes.
Gangs are paid thousands of pounds by vulnerable people to get them to Calais, from where some are smuggled to Britain to work to pay off huge debts to people traffickers.
Police said people had been queuing to be processed from before 7am local time (6am UK time) on the cold Monday morning.
As officers opened the gates at 8am (7am BST), people carrying holdalls, backpacks and trailing wheelie-bags were guided into lines by police as they headed towards the warehouse.
By 8.30am (7.30am BST) white buses had started lining up within the gated area of the warehouse compound ready for the first group of people. The first bus with passengers left shortly afterwards.
Aziz, from Darfur, Sudan, said he was happy to leave the camp, where he has spent the last four months.
The 27-year-old told the Press Association: “I don’t like this place at all because I want to go to a city area.”
Asked if he was worried, he said: “I’m feeling not worried, not happy at all. I never laugh, I never cry. Just nothing, but I want to go from this place.”
He said he would claim asylum in France and is hoping to go to the west of the country.
Speaking of his home, he said: “In Sudan there is insecurity, there is war, there is a terrible situation, discrimination ... it is not possible to stay.”
The first bus to leave the area reportedly contained Sudanese people from the Jungle.
Unaccompanied minors are believed to be the only group staying in Calais, where they will be taken to containers within a secure area of the camp.