Next stop UK: As riot police storm The Jungle migrant camp at Calais, a defiant message from the asylum seekers

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An operation to raze the squalid Calais refugee camp known as the Jungle was underway this morning, led by French riot police armed with flamethrowers, stun guns and tear gas.

Up to 500 officers are at the site - one for each remaining migrant in the shanty town of tarpaulin tents and rickety shacks.

Military units are in reserve near the Channel Tunnel entrance in case of disorder and efforts have so far been hampered by the presence of scores of camera crews and human rights organisation representatives.

Violence: Police hold a man down as the operation to clear Calais gets underway this morning

Hundreds of police descended on the rubbish strewn camp in the early hours

Injured: A man lies prone on the ground while medical crews tend to him

Minor scuffles have broken out and a dozen immigrants who were refusing to move were dragged and carried out of the camp by police. Some were still eating their breakfast in tents when police descended on the site.

Around 150 migrants were standing quietly behind banners marked 'we need shelter and protection, we want peace'.

Some camp dwellers were dragged away by police officers and put into waiting buses. Others were escorted out.

Protesters, some in tears, shouted slogans at the police, including: 'Shame on France.'

Pain: A young immigrant clutches his head after getting caught up in the melee

Jessica Nora Shadia, 25, from Dunkirk, said: 'It's shameful. They treat people like animals. Children were being pushed to the floor as if people have nothing. It's so sad.

'We tried to help them,' she shrugged: 'What can you do.'

An aid worker who declined to be named, added: 'I think it's not human. They dragged people out of their tents. It isn't fair.

'These are people, young people, they deserve so much more than this. It's a scandal.'

According to aid agencies, the immigrants were being taken in buses to police stations to be processed.

From there they will be sent back to the countries where they entered the European Union.

It was thought that many will end up in Greece, one of the main points of entry for the immigrants.
But aid agencies have predicted that many will end up back on the streets.

Last stand: Faces of defiance and a despairing message as migrants prepare for the French onslaught on the Jungle

The mosque: Rows of shoes deposited beside the camp's makeshift prayer site as scores of migrants worship. 'We will defend the mosque at all costs,' said one Afghan

Police hope to seal off the site at the end of the four-day action. But last night some migrants, most of them from Afghanistan, threatened to meet violence with violence and sent out this defiant message - 'the only place we are going from here is Britain'.

A 22-year-old from Kabul, who gave his name as Rezna, spoke for many when he said: 'We're determined to stay as close to the port as possible because it's the way to England. Nothing will stop us getting there. We are all absolutely determined to start a new life in Britain.'

The sheer squalor of the camp is one reason for its closure. Piles of rubbish lie strewn everywhere and the stench of rotting food and human waste fills the air.

Many of the camp's inhabitants, and most of the women and children who were there, have already fled, leaving behind a hard core of young men. 'We're determined to stay as close to the port as possible because it's the way to England. Nothing will stop us getting there. We are all absolutely determined to start a new life in Britain.' 

They are resigned to losing their temporary shelters but pledged yesterday to defend their makeshift mosque - by far the best-built structure on the camp.

'We are expecting the worst when the police arrive, but will defend our mosque at all costs,' said Rachid, a 21-year-old Afghan. 'It is extremely important to us. It is a holy place where we pray night and day - the police must not harm it.'

Mansoor, 32, another Afghan, said: 'We do not want any trouble, but fighting sometimes breaks out because of the way we are treated. If they show disrespect to our mosque then we will respond accordingly.'

The French authorities had waited until the end of Ramadan before tackling the Jungle.

The camp is a magnet for people from all over the world determined to cross the Channel and reach Britain. Once here, they claim asylum or disappear into the black economy.

France's immigration minister Eric Besson said last week that the shanty town would be razed by Friday at the latest as the first step in moves to make Calais 'watertight' to people smugglers and migrants.

Nowhere to go: Hundreds of migrants - mostly from Afghanistan - are expected to try to get into the UK after the French Government announced it would be closing the camp this week

Asked about the mosque, one senior officer said: 'We will show it respect, but those living in the camp will definitely be forced to move on.'

While Mr Besson believes the destruction of the Jungle will go a long way toward solving the problem of illegal immigration from Calais, others say that the migrants will simply move to another part of town.

The migrants - Rezna in particular - clearly agree with them.

And Catholic abbot Jean-Pierre Boutoille, of the immigrant charity C-Sur, said: 'All the government is doing is displacing the problem.'

Social workers and interpreters will be present throughout the clear-out amid fears of violence.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said yesterday he was delighted about the impending closure. Britain has ruled out taking in the inhabitants of the Jungle and Mr Johnson said genuine refugees should apply for asylum in the country where they entered the EU. continues here

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22 September 2009 at 21:33

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