PARIS – French authorities say the closure of the slum-like camp in Calais will start on Monday and will last approximatively a week in what they describe as a "humanitarian" operation.
According to officials at France's Interior ministry, all of the 6,486 migrants they have counted in the camp — where refugees have been living in appalling conditions for years — will be offered relocation, either in reception centers across the country or abroad.
The dismantling of the wretched camp — known as "the jungle" — is a major issue for French President Francois Hollande and his Socialist government ahead of next year's presidential election. Hollande, who is eyeing a re-election bid, is facing harsh criticism from conservative and far-right rivals, who say the camp symbolizes his failure to deal with Europe's migrant crisis.
Interior Ministry officials say more than 7,500 places have been made available for the refugees living in the camp and have promised that they will be sheltered under dignified conditions during the examination of their requests for asylum.
French authorities hope the dismantling will go smoothly and they don't expect opposition from the migrants. They are more worried that activists from the No Borders group, who advocate free movement for all and have previously staged protests in Calais, will disrupt operations.
The prefect heading the local administration in Calais, Fabienne Buccio, said about 200 activists — most of them French and English — have gathered in Calais ahead of the dismantling. She said 1,250 police officers will be deployed during the closure operations.
On Sunday, leaflets written in languages spoken in the camp will be distributed to migrants, who will gather in a 3,000-square-meters (32,000-square-feet) shed adjacent to the camp from Monday morning. Migrants will be divided into four groups depending on their situation and condition: unaccompanied minors, adults, families, and vulnerable people.
Buccio said 60 buses, each one accommodating 50 people, will depart on Monday, meaning 3,000 migrants are planned to leave Calais on the first day of the dismantling. Each migrant will be offered two relocation options in France, and packed lunches will be provided to those setting off on a long road trips.
Volunteers from the aid group France Terre d'Asile will work closely with the 1,291 unaccompanied minors. Most of these teenagers, who claim to have ties in Britain, will remain in Calais until their requests for family reunification are examined by the British Home Office. About 70 minors have legally crossed the English Channel since the start of the year and French authorities say they have received guarantees from their British counterparts that the influx of teenagers will be increased sharply.
The minors staying in France will be dispersed in special centers for teenagers where they won't mingle with adults.