Refugees and migrants have started leaving the Calais “Jungle” ahead of its demolition.
Crowds surged towards the warehouse where processing was taking place as police opened the gates just after 7am UK time on Monday. French President Francois Hollande announced last month that the camp will close before winter, with its estimated 6,500 inhabitants dispersed around the country.
Police vans and fire engines had gathered on the perimeter of the rat-infested slum as migrants and refugees queued in the dark to register for accommodation centres elsewhere in France after being told they must leave the camp or risk arrest and deportation.
People in the queues said they had no idea where they were going but many seemed resigned to leaving the sprawling camp, where demolition work is expected to begin tomorrow.
The atmosphere in the queues was in contrast to scenes at the weekend when there were violent clashes, with camp residents throwing stones at French riot police on the perimeter who fought back by firing tear gas.
The Care4Calais refugee crisis charity said it was hoping for a peaceful day after it supplied people with thousands of rucksacks over the weekend and worked to prepare them psychologically for Monday’s mass eviction.
The founder of Care4Calais Clare Moseley has said that the “Jungle” is likely to re-emerge despite its demolition, as refugees will still make perilous journeys to Calais.
Some 60 government-organised buses were expected to take thousands of the camp’s residents to temporary reception centres where they will have to claim asylum in France within a set period of time or face deportation.
It is believed they will be sorted into groups of families, minors, vulnerable or ill people and others travelling alone at a registration centre in a warehouse by the camp and given coloured wristbands depending on which region they say they would like to be sent to.
A further 85 buses are expected to arrive on Tuesday and Wednesday as the mass eviction continues.
The site has become a symbol of the French government’s failure to tackle Europe’s migrant crisis. Despite efforts to reduce numbers by dismantling the slum’s southern section earlier this year, migrants returned to the camp.
An emergency legal bid by several aid groups to delay the closure of the Jungle camp was rejected by a court in Lille earlier last week.
The Jungle closure plan will see people being held at more than 160 reception centres in regions across France for up to four months while authorities investigate their cases. Those who do not seek asylum will be deported.
Gangs are paid thousands of pounds by vulnerable people to get them to Calais, from where some are smuggled to Britain to work to pay off huge debts to people traffickers.
Aziz, from Darfur, Sudan, said he was happy to leave the camp, where he has spent the last four months. The 27-year-old said: “I don’t like this place at all because I want to go to a city area.”
Asked if he was worried, he said: “I’m feeling not worried, not happy at all. I never laugh, I never cry. Just nothing, but I want to go from this place.” He said he would claim asylum in France and is hoping to go to the west of the country.
Speaking of his home, he said: “In Sudan there is insecurity, there is war, there is a terrible situation, discrimination … it is not possible to stay.” The first bus to leave the area reportedly contained Sudanese people from the Jungle.
Unaccompanied minors are believed to be the only group staying in Calais, where they will be taken to containers within a secure area of the camp.
The chief executive of the Port of Calais Jean-Marc Puissesseau said that the dismantling of the “Jungle” is like “D-Day”. He warned that it would be a “waste of time” unless a police presence was maintained in the city to stop refugees and migrants who want to travel on to Britain from gathering there.