CALAIS, France – A destruction crew on Wednesday tore down the last of more than 1,000 tents and huts in a large swath of a makeshift migrant camp in the French port city of Calais, a job marked by fiery protests, an ongoing hunger strike and several arrests.
The prefecture, or state authority, which ordered the dismantling of the southern sector of the camp — a veritable village on 7.5 hectares (18.5 acres) of land — said workers guarded by police finished pulling down the flimsy dwellings at 2 p.m. Wednesday, less than three weeks after the job began.
Violence marked the start of the operation on Feb. 29 as riot police went after protesting migrants standing on the roofs of their huts or burning them before they were taken down. A group of protesting Iranian migrants sewed their mouths shut and went on a hunger strike.
Nearly 4,000 migrants — most hoping to sneak across the English Channel to Britain — live in the migrant camp. Authorities put the population of the southern sector at 1,000, but associations working there say it served as a temporary home to several thousand. The camp, which sprung up last April near a day center opened by authorities, quickly grew into a slum village with houses of worship, schools, shops and even a theater.
A court order forbids the state from dismantling such common areas and they have been left standing as lonely beacons of life in a field of mud.
Authorities have been encouraging the displaced to move into heated containers or tents on the northern rim of the camp — as 643 have done — or go to welcome centers around France. However, many have moved their sparse belongings to the northern sector.
There was widespread concern that the northern part, too, would soon come under the ax. Prefect Fabienne Buccio has said no more than 2,000 migrants can remain in Calais — the number of people the official dwellings can hold.