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Police clear French migrant camp

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Dominic Hughes watched as police scuffled with protesters

French police have moved in to dismantle a makeshift camp set up by migrants near the port of Calais.

French officials said 278 migrants had been held in the operation at the camp known as "the jungle". More than 1,000 were thought to have already left.

Rights protesters scuffled with police and some arrests were reported.

UK Home Secretary Alan Johnson said reports Britain would be forced to take some of the migrants were wrong but that it would help "genuine refugees".

Resigned

Rights activists initially formed a human chain as the operation began early on Tuesday.

AT THE SCENE
Dominic Hughes
Dominic Hughes, BBC News, Calais

Not long after sunrise, French police headed to the camp known as "the jungle". Around 600 officers sealed off the site and started to move in.

A group of local protesters had gathered campaigning for the rights of the migrants. Some of them clashed with police as they began to clear the site. There were some scuffles and a few people were arrested but the migrants mostly stood silently, some of them crying.

They held banners saying, "the jungle is our house, please don't destroy it", but in truth this is a dirty, squalid camp of makeshift tents and shelters and it had become a magnet for migrants desperate to reach British shores.

Aerial television pictures showed officers moving unhindered throughout the camp and calmly leading out a line of migrants.

But other shots showed some jostling and scuffling between police and protesters, some of whom were reportedly arrested.

After the camp was cleared, bulldozers were brought in to raze the makeshift shelters.

The chief of Calais police, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, told reporters the operation had been a success.

He said 146 adults and 132 self-declared minors had been detained. None of those held were female, he said.

The adults were taken into police custody and the minors taken to special centres.

France says all will be offered the chance to apply for asylum or voluntary assisted repatriation.

However, many of the camp's inhabitants left before the operation and correspondents say it is feared they will simply set up camp somewhere else.

On their last night in the camp, some of those who remained said they feared for the future.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

One resident, Bashir, a 24-year-old English teacher from northern Afghanistan, told the AFP news agency he had paid $15,000 (10,000 euros; £9,000) to travel to Europe through Pakistan and Istanbul.

He said: "We have no idea what the police will do, if they will take us or let us go free.

"But here we already made our place. We have our homes, our showers and our mosque," he added.

'Delighted'

On the territory of this nation, the law of the jungle cannot endure
Eric Besson,
French Immigration Minister

Shortly before the operation began, French Immigration Minister Eric Besson said the camp had to be closed as it was "a base for people traffickers".

"There are traffickers who make these poor people pay an extremely high price for a ticket to England," he said.

Mr Johnson had said he was "delighted" about the closure of the camp.

On Tuesday he denied the UK would be forced to take any of the illegal immigrants.

Refugee camps of the world
The number of migrants in and around Calais is large by European standards but small compared to some refugee camps.
Dadaab, the biggest refugee camp in the world, contains three distinct camps and is running at more than three times its official capacity.
Dungu is not a camp as such, but what UNHCR, the UN's refugee agency, terms a "secured area".

Mr Johnson said he was "committed to helping individuals who are genuine refugees, who should apply for protection in the first safe country that they reach".

He added: "We expect those who are not in need of protection to return home."

On Monday a spokesman for EU justice commissioner Jacques Barrot denied reports he had called for a change in the law to allow some migrants to be fast-tracked into the UK.

Michele Cercone told the BBC there was no attempt to force countries to take asylum seekers and Mr Barrot was urging France and the UK to "find a joint solution".

The UK-based Refugee Council wants Britain to accept some migrants, particularly children, with family connections in the UK.

French officials had said the jungle had become a haven for people-smuggling gangs and a no-go zone for local residents.

Makeshift insanitary camps sprang up after officials closed the Red Cross centre at Sangatte in November 2002.



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