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Mass-Eviction Set To Empty 'The Jungle' Of Migrants. What's Next For them?

Oct 23, 2016
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to France, where police are preparing to evict thousands of migrants from a notorious makeshift camp known as The Jungle. It's in the northern French port town of Calais. The eviction had been planned and delayed many times before as officials struggled to determine just what to do with the would-be refugees. But NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports that that has changed. She's with us now from Calais. Soraya, thanks for joining us.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: You're welcome, Michel.

MARTIN: So what are police planning to do with these migrants?

NELSON: Well, they want to remove all of the migrants tomorrow during basically a 12-hour-long eviction that will start at local time 8 a.m. We're talking about 6,000 to 8,000 people and possibly even more because no one knows exactly how many people are here. And what's going to happen is that police are going to divide these migrants into four groups - single male adults, adults who are traveling in groups, unaccompanied minors and families - who will then be registered and then they'll be sent by bus to refugee homes around France.

The authorities tell us they have places for 7,500 people, and that's something that's new. They have not had that before. But it's also important to remember that when they've tried to do things like this in the past, it just never goes smoothly. For example, earlier this year when they cleared the southern part of the camp, basically, 129 kids were lost. It's unclear what happened to them. You know, they're just not - they were no longer around.

MARTIN: What are the migrants telling you? Have they been told what the plans are? Are they planning to go along with these plans?

NELSON: Well, it's really interesting because nobody that I spoke to today says that they like this camp. I mean, the conditions here are horrible. It's muddy, there's squalor, there's just no really running water or electricity. But they also don't trust the French authorities, so this doesn't look like it's going to be an easy process. Most of the migrants I interviewed were like Eritrean migrant David Haile. He said he won't go unless the police force him. So I asked him if he was going to try to hide.

DAVID HAILE: Yeah, I will try. We will try, if we got the chance. But if it's very difficult, we'll go with them and we'll see what happens.

NELSON: But surprisingly, he doesn't object to the demolition either to cut down on what he thinks is competition he faces when he tries to get to England from here.

HAILE: There was so many problem there, you know? So the chance is very difficult to get across England. If the camp is closed, maybe the chance would be good.

MARTIN: Soraya, you know, you mentioned earlier that in an earlier effort to clear at least part of the camp that children were lost. I understand that there are something like 1,300 unaccompanied children and teens in the camp. What's going to happen to them?

NELSON: So far, about 200 have been sent to England, in large part to be reunited with family members there. And when we spoke to the prefect of Calais earlier, she says they will work with British authorities to see if more can be sent there. But for now, they're going to be put into special housing for unaccompanied minors in close to 300 centers across France. And actually, unaccompanied minors are in the best situation as far as what's going to happen tomorrow because French officials all agree that something must be done for them.

MARTIN: How is it going so far as these preparations to clear the camp have been made? I understand that last night people were throwing rocks at the police and then the police responded with smoke grenades. Is there the expectation that there will be more difficulties tomorrow if there are people who refuse to leave?

NELSON: Well, the Interior Ministry spokesman told us no, that they're going to be asking people to come to the center to register and present themselves - like, in other words, a voluntary eviction, if you will - but that they won't be forced to go. What we saw last night though hardly seemed congenial. I mean, even as the sun was going down, we saw dozens of police officers in riot gear setting up next to a field where some migrant kids were playing cricket. And at the same time, you could see this whole line of adult male migrants glaring at the officers from the same sand dunes where they were throwing rocks at police officers last night. So it doesn't look like it's going to be a peaceful process.

MARTIN: That's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Calais. Soraya, thanks so much for speaking with us.

NELSON: You're welcome, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.