October 18, 2016 - 10:07 AM
CALAIS, France - A French court on Tuesday rejected a request by aid groups to delay the closure of the migrant camp in Calais, allowing authorities to clear out its thousands of residents in the coming weeks.
French authorities are gradually relocating or deporting the 6,000 to 10,000 migrants from the camp, also known as "the jungle." No date has been set for a large-scale clear-out operation, but the government has promised to shut it down by the start of winter.
Several aid groups filed an emergency request last week to postpone the closure, arguing that authorities aren't ready to relocate its residents. A Lille court rejected the request Tuesday, according to Pierre Henry of aid group Terre d'Asile.
Charity groups warn that many of the migrants don't want to stay in France and may set up camp elsewhere to continue trying to cross the English Channel to Britain.
The head of the local administration, prefect Fabienne Buccio, welcomed the court decision. She said the government has secured 4,400 places for Calais' migrants in towns around France so far, and that French and British authorities would speed up efforts to transfer underage migrants to Britain.
Under heavy pressure from France and mounting concern of aid groups, Britain agreed to take in some of the unaccompanied children in Calais who have family in the U.K., but it remains unclear what will happen to the hundreds of others.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also hailed the decision, and pledged that each person in the camp would be given clear information about their choices and offered "humanitarian" shelter.
"France is a great nation," he said. "Its history, its tradition and its values demand that we offer solutions for these men, women and children who were thrown onto paths of exile by war and persecution, and who reached Calais in the illusion of a passage to Great Britain promised by cynical players in the traffic of human beings."
French authorities announced a solution Tuesday for 80 migrants of university age: They were taken to Lille to study in a public university compound. The students will study French for a year, and then will be able to pursue specialty courses toward a diploma.
Students heading to the Lille program hugged other migrants as they left the Calais camp, though one cried as sat in the bus.
Angela Charlton contributed to this report from Paris.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016