French clear out ‘jungle’ refugee camp

CALAIS, France (AP) — The grim camp known as “the jungle,” a symbol of Europe’s failure to come to grips with its crisis over asylum seekers, is no more.

French authorities declared Wednesday they had cleared out the camp after most of its thousands of residents were driven away on buses — an evacuation accelerated because some of the frustrated, departing migrants set fire to parts of the burgeoning slum.

Smoke hung in the air as dusk fell, its stench a reminder of how one of the world’s wealthiest nations was unable to create order at the camp, where those fleeing war and poverty have lived in squalor for months or longer.

Most of the camp’s former residents, foiled in their bid to enter Britain despite reaching the edge of the English Channel, are being relocated to communities throughout France, where authorities vow to give them decent shelter and advice about how to seek asylum so they can stay in Europe rather than return to trouble spots in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

Some refused the offer, however, preferring to take their chances on the speeding Eurostar trains that connect France to Britain via the nearby Eurotunnel or the trucks that make the trip.

“This jungle is no good. We go to new jungle,” said a 20-year-old Pakistani, Muhammad Afridi.

He said he was joining 30 friends in a place he refused to identify that could be used as a jumping off point for clandestine, and risky, passage to England.

Siddiq, a 17-year-old Afghan who spent 11 months in the camp, said the fires terrified him overnight, especially when gas tanks ignited. The Associated Press is not using the last names of teenage migrants because of their vulnerable situation.

He said he left and slept under a nearby bridge despite the freezing temperatures. He has been trying without success to get to Britain by truck.

“My heart, it is broken,” he said. “I can’t do anything, even eat.”

Crews were moving in Wednesday night with heavy equipment to clear the charred ruins and remove any tents and shelters that remained standing. Authorities said earlier that four Afghans were detained on suspicion of torching parts of the camp. The blazes slightly injured one person who was taken to a hospital.