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British charities and lawmakers have urged French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to ensure the safety of children in the “Jungle” Calais migrant camp during its demolition set for Monday.
The signatories said in a letter dated Friday they had “very serious worries concerning the security and well-being of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable adults”.
Cazeneuve has pledged that all remaining migrants at the site, currently occupied by around 5,700 people according to official figures, would be given “dignified” shelter after the camp is cleared.
“We fear that the resources currently being deployed and the proposed responses are insufficient to ensure the effective protection of the most vulnerable, notably unaccompanied children,” the letter said.
The signatories, which included Save the Children, the Refugee Council, Safe Passage UK-Citizens UK and the International Rescue Committee UK, said tensions had risen in the camp since its demolition was announced, due to a lack of clear information from the authorities about the future of its inhabitants.
They said a poorly-organised clearance would put already fragile people into an even more precarious situation.
The letter asked for all unaccompanied minors to be found shelter before the demolition begins, for a designated “safe zone” in the camp during the dismantlement and, that everyone eligible to join family in Britain be identified.
They also called for independent rights observers to be present during the demolition.
The signatories included 60 of the 650 MPs, two bishops and several members of parliament’s upper House of Lords, including Paddy Ashdown, the former international high representative for Bosnia.
But at the “Jungle” camp in the northern French port of Calais on Saturday, migrants seemed prepared for the move to various locations around France.
‘We’ve been waiting’
“Monday I take the bus!” declared a smiling Sudanese named Kali, living in a tent marked with graffiti saying “London Hotel”.
“Everyone has had their bags packed for a week already because they told us it could be on the 17th (of October) and since then we’ve been waiting,” said Mohammed, also from Sudan.
The 43-year-old former computer engineer says he’s given up trying to get to Britain, which was the goal of most of the 6,000 to 8,000 migrants in the Calais camp. Some claimed to have family links there and many believed they would have a better chance of finding work.
“Some people don’t want to be forced to move,” Mohammed added.
Volunteers with the British association Care 4 Calais walked from tent to tent to inform the migrants about the plans and give them emergency contact phone numbers.
Police could be seen maintaining a discreet presence near the temporary welcome centre where interviews were to take place for unaccompanied minors hoping to join relatives in the UK.
After 100 youngsters left on Saturday, another 40 were set to leave Calais for Britain on Sunday morning, said Pierre Henry, head of the France Terre d’Asile charity.
Among the Afghans who run food shops in the camp, one owner with the sign “Do not destroy the Jungle” has his doubts about whether the dismantlement will actually happen.
“We’ll see on Monday, I don’t believe it,” he said.
Another Afghan shopkeeper, when asked what he would do after the camp was torn down, just said, “I will go to the next Jungle.”