As dawn broke over the “Jungle” refugee and migrant camp in France on Monday, thousands of people were being offered two choices — stay in France or go back to their country of origin — as authorities prepare to clear the patch of wasteland where thousands have made temporary homes.
French authorities have converted an old hangar in the port city of Calais into a processing center for between 6,000 and 10,000 migrants to finally begin demolishing the “Jungle” from Tuesday, as the government has vowed to do several times this past year.
The camp is a grim mosaic of squalid tents, makeshift shelters and tumbledown caravans at the side of a motorway that has become the wretched symbol of Europe’s refugee crisis.
Migrants have flocked to Europe by the millions, many from war-torn Syria and African nations. The majority at the Jungle comes from Afghanistan, Eritrea and Sudan.
Some migrants have refused to leave the camp, which sits at one end of the Eurotunnel — a direct route to Britain that many have risked their lives trying to traverse, hiding in lorries. Some have even walked the 30 miles.
In 2015, the Eurotunnel operator intercepted 37,000 migrants attempting to travel to the UK illegally.
Britain is a preferred destination for many migrants — its economy is doing better than most of its European counterparts, unemployment rates are low and a lot of migrants have at least a basic command of English.
Wahid, a 20-year-old from Jalabad in Afghanistan, tried everything to get to Britain, passing through Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy before reaching France. He has lived in The Jungle for eight months.
“I hoped to go to England, but I’ve lost my chance. For three months I tried hiding in trucks in the parking (lots), but every time they found me by scanners. They said ‘Sorry, no chance, go back to the Jungle,'” he told CNN.