PARIS – France's immigration minister said Wednesday that minors detained in a roundup of illegal immigrants in the English Channel port of Calais would not be expelled from France.
Eric Besson said in an interview on France-Info radio that the youths detained Tuesday in the so-called "jungle" encampment which housed mainly Afghans trying to sneak over to Britain had been sent to special centers for juveniles pending examination of their cases.
France is "one of the rare countries ... which never expel lone minors," Besson said, referring to teenagers under age 18 who are not accompanied by a parent.
The encampment of tents made of logs and plastic was razed after the roundup Tuesday. The area of scrubland near the Calais port was eerily bare on Wednesday after serving for years as a shelter for many hundreds trying to hop a ferry or train to Britain.
Minors made up more than half of the 276 undocumented illegal immigrants led out of the Calais encampment, officials have said. The figure of those detained was initially put at 278, but the immigration minister later lowered it to 276.
Video of the operation showed young Afghans sobbing as scores of police moved in to demolish the tents.
Of the adults picked up Tuesday, 130 were sent to centers in southern France, four were hospitalized for scabies and 21 were freed, French TV station iTele reported, quoting the regional prefecture.
Besson has said those detained would be offered a voluntary return to their countries, with a stipend, or a chance to apply for asylum if they fit the profile or expelled.
Some 800 people had been living in the camp in the two months that preceded the evacuation, but many scattered and disappeared before the raid.
Besson reiterated that the aim of the operation was not to detain immigrants without papers, but to strike at smugglers living off their backs.
Those in the camps had paid huge sums to reach France at great risk via human traffickers. In the "jungle," they made more payments to small-time smugglers to survive, said Besson. He said immigrants could pay euro500 ($739) to euro1,000 ($1,478) to try to cross the Channel.
"The goal was to destroy this type of work," the minister said.
French media reported that 10 smugglers had been arrested in police visits to other, smaller camps.