CALAIS, France — As French authorities began demolishing parts of the notorious “Jungle” camp Tuesday, hundreds of migrants lined up with all of their possessions for transport to asylum centers elsewhere in France. More than 2,500 migrants have left the camp since Monday, French authorities said.
Defying expectations, France’s demolition of the Jungle has largely proceeded in a calm and orderly fashion. As of Tuesday evening, there were none of the violent scenes that marked the government’s earlier attempts to close portions of this sprawling camp, where as many as 9,000 people — mostly from Afghanistan and Sudan — have lived in squalor for more than a year, an experience riddled by disease and lawlessness.
In the past, most migrants refused to abandon the Jungle because they believed staying would make it easier to enter Britain — just 20 miles to the north — where many still say they hope to go. Some remain in the camp, but after months of failed attempts to stow away on trucks and ferries heading across the English Channel, many have resigned themselves to staying in France, at least for now.
As a small crew of about 20 construction workers began tearing down makeshift dwellings in this seaside shantytown, those waiting to get out said that they had no idea where they would sleep come nightfall.
The French government will send the Jungle migrants to a network of 400 “welcome centers” across the country, where they will be granted a temporary stay to decide whether they wish to claim asylum here or move on elsewhere. Migrants can choose eastern or western France, but their specific destination depends on the day of the week and where the particular buses are headed.
While they waited — most with bags and suitcases they had struggled to close — some of the men in line began to reflect on their experience living in the camp that has become a politically charged issue in both Britain and France and a symbol of Europe’s struggle to handle a historic influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East.
For migrants and aid workers alike, the closure of the Jungle immediately represented the end of a complex legacy of extremes.
Some said that they would remember their time in the camp as terrifying, a dark coda to an already traumatic exile from war-torn home countries. But others said that they would remember it as oasis of kindness in a new world devoid of family and home.
Siddiq Khan, 25, of Afghanistan, was waiting Tuesday in the long line outside the transport registration center. “I saw everything about life in there and about what life is,” he said, gesturing behind him at the camp’s entrance. “And this is not life.”
Khan said that early in his 10 months in the Jungle, he, like many others, attempted to jump into a Britain-bound truck in the middle of the night. But on one occasion, he said, French authorities discovered him at one of the checkpoints, throwing tear gas in his eyes and beating him to an extent that required medical attention. He gestured for his friend, Asad, 24, who was with him that night, to show the scar on his forehead. A purple line showed the marks where five stitches had been.
“I’ll remember that night for the rest of my life,” Khan said.
But Khalid Altayeb, 32, of Sudan, said he would carry different memories as he leaves for elsewhere in France — although exactly where, he said, he could not yet say.
“I will remember all the human aid organizations who helped me,” Altayeb said. “They gave me medicine I needed. They helped me with my kidneys — I have some problems with my kidneys.”
“This was work for all people,” he said.
Aid workers, a large number of whom left their lives in Britain behind to relocate to Calais and serve the camp, were emotional as the demolition began. Clare Moseley, who left her career as an insurance executive last year to found Care4Calais, a humanitarian organization, the camp’s closure represented “a massive capacity to not care” on the part of many Britons.
“To me, [the Jungle] represents the failure of the United Kingdom to help people who need help. It’s so weird that people can care about what happens in Africa but bury their heads in the sand when things happen right on their doorstep.”
For others, the memory of Jungle — essentially equidistant from London and Paris, two of Europe’s wealthiest capitals — will carry a larger meaning.
Alf Dubs, 84, a member of Britain’s House of Lords who sponsored recent legislation to welcome unaccompanied children to the country, said that the camp “will be remembered as a scar on Europe, a sign of how Europe has not stepped up to the mark.”
“The world has to come to terms with the fact that migration flows are going to become a norm,” he said. “And the Jungle is no place for human beings to live.”
Soon, all that will be left of this camp and of the tension it created is the concrete wall that separates it from the highway, funded mostly by the British government to keep migrants out of Calais’s port, where the British border begins.
There is also the mural at the camp’s entrance by the famous graffiti artist Banksy. “London Calling,” it reads, scrawled on a highway underpass. For many, London still calls, if no longer as loudly.