After French camp is razed, migrants adapt again

French CRS riot police patrolled near migrants wrapped in blankets in Calais, France, on Thursday.
Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
French CRS riot police patrolled near migrants wrapped in blankets in Calais, France, on Thursday.

CALAIS, France — Thousands of migrants dispersed this week from the now-torched camp they had called home in Calais are struggling to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings in towns and villages throughout France.

Some of the nearly 6,000 people relocated from the camp known as ‘‘the jungle’’ encountered hostility and confusion. Others had trouble buying food.

Meanwhile, after fires set by some departing residents hastened the camp’s closure, some confused children and adults were left sleeping rough on its fringes.


Aid workers scrambling to find a solution were given permission Thursday to take about 100 minors and adults to a small makeshift school in what was once the camp’s southern sector, which was razed by the state in March.

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The disorienting unfamiliarity that comes from being in flux was evident Thursday in Croisilles, a small village in the same northern region of France as the camp.

Word that a former retirement home there would be used to shelter relocated migrants sparked angry demonstrations last week.

The newcomers — 31 Sudanese — seemed aware that some Croisilles residents wish they had not come. One new arrival, Nasil Mohammad, 21, said he hoped he could turn things around.

‘‘Some persons don’t love me? OK, but I can do something and then he loves me,’’ Mohammad said. ‘‘Maybe I can help someone, in some place, and do for him something and then maybe he in that time he love me.’’


Mayor Gerard Due said some village people have responded well. Fears fanned by social media that migrants would bring diseases or rape children have proven unfounded, Due noted.

Resident Marie-Ange Tabary has urged people in Croisilles not to be afraid of the migrants. She said the protests had embarrassed the town.

‘‘The shame to see all those demonstrators. Why be afraid?’’ Tabary said. ‘‘For the moment they’ve been here, they haven’t done anything bad.’’

Some of the thousands of other camp residents have been sent to similar centers throughout France.

In Amiens, north of Paris, a 26-year-old Sudanese man said he has had little to eat since his arrival Wednesday evening. He said local stores would not accept food vouchers handed out by the reception center that greeted his group of 60, then sent them off to apartments.


Like others, Ibrahim — who did not want his last name used because of concerns about his legal status — has been given temporary housing while he pursues an asylum claim in France.

‘‘There’s no food, just rice and sugar,’’ he said by telephone, adding there was also some milk and sardines.

A grocery store refused to accept the food vouchers proffered by him and his five apartment-mates, he said.

‘‘We don’t know the places and we don’t speak French,’’ he said. ‘‘There is nothing I can do [except] forget everything and start a new beginning because I have no other choice.’’

‘‘Tonight,’’ Ibrahim said, ‘‘maybe we can make rice with sugar. During the war [in Sudan] we were accustomed to things like that.’’

Afghan migrant Abdul Wali said he cried Thursday morning when he boarded a bus for Strasbourg in eastern France, leaving the Calais camp for what should be the last time.

During his camp stay, Wali emerged as one of a number of community leaders who met regularly with French officials preparing for the mass evacuation that began Monday.

‘‘I feel very sad,’’ he said, speaking by phone from the bus making its way to Strasbourg near the German border.

The caravan Wali slept in at the Calais camp was destroyed in the fires that leveled large sectors of the camp.

‘‘It broke my heart,’’ said Wali, who had tried to use his influence to make the mass departure as peaceful as possible.

He expressed relief on hearing that Strasbourg is a fine city, home to the European Parliament.

‘‘I want to learn French and get [official] status from France. I claim asylum. I hope they give me a visa to start a new life.’’

Bulldozers began demolishing what was left of the smoldering Calais camp Thursday even as dozens of new migrants reached and massed around the camp site.

Prefect Fabienne Buccio said they were coming from other parts of France and even Germany to try to take advantage of France’s operation to shelter migrants.

Steve Barbet, spokesman for the prefecture, said migrants were seen getting out of cars in front of the registration center or arriving at the Calais train station.

They joined Calais camp migrants who chose not to be relocated to other parts of France, some clinging to their dream of reaching Britain by hopping on freight trucks crossing the English Channel by ferry or the Eurotunnel train.

The coastal region has long been dotted with small encampments where migrants gather.

Many migrants waited until Wednesday, the last day of the three-day evacuation, to decide whether to take a bus to one of the 450 special centers around France, increasing the chaos.

Barbet denied claims that authorities had refused to register minors once the 1,500 beds in special heated containers reserved for children and teenagers were taken.

‘‘It’s difficult to accept, but we can’t force a minor to be housed,’’ Barbet said.

Both Save the Children, which has volunteers in Calais, and UNICEF expressed deep concern for what they said was a refusal to find beds for all minors. Save the Children was worried the children would run away.

‘‘The situation for children in Calais . . . is the worst it has ever been,’’ the organization said in a statement.

In contrast, some who opted for relocation were happy to put the Calais experience squarely in the past.

‘‘It’s very emotional for me. This is really a difference between day and night,’’ said Mohamed Ahmet, a Sudanese migrant arriving at his new home in Strasbourg, where greeters awaited. ‘‘I am received very well. I am very happy.’’