Calais Jungle Demolition Leaves Children Sleeping Rough As Fires Rage Across Camp

'They’ve been told to go back to the camp but they can’t because it’s on fire'.

Hundreds of unaccompanied children from the Calais jungle camp now have nowhere to go as fires decimate the camp amid its demolition by police.

The women and children’s centre in the camp had burned down along with many tents and structures overnight as the demolition entered its third day on Wednesday.

Lliana Bird, co-founder of charity Help Refugees, said many children had slept rough on Tuesday night as they had nowhere to go.

She said authorities who were supposed to register children started turning them away from 12.15pm on Wednesday, saying they were done for the day.

The shipping containers where they were due to be housed are now apparently full, Bird added.

<strong>People watch as thick smoke and flames rise from amidst the tents in Calais on Wednesday</strong>
People watch as thick smoke and flames rise from amidst the tents in Calais on Wednesday
Emilio Morenatti/AP

Bird told HuffPost UK that 400 unaccompanied children were now sheltering under a bridge near the entrance to the camp.

“They don’t know where to go or where they’re sleeping. No one’s doing anything,” she said. “They’ve been told to go back to the camp but they can’t because it’s on fire.”

Details of what exactly the children were told by authorities were hard to confirm amid the chaos, Bird said.

But she added: “The long and short of it is that there’s hundreds of kids, who are just seeing their homes destroyed again.

“They have not got anyone there telling them where to go, what to do... [there is no] kind of plan in place for them to be in any kind of safe accommodation tonight.”

Help Refugees’ final census of the camp established there were 1,291 unaccompanied children in the camp just before demolition, an increase from 1,022 in September.

This was despite the fact around 2,000 people left the camp in September, leaving a total population of 8,143.

Hundreds of the adults in the camp were bussed out to other places in France as the demolition began earlier this week.

But children have not been moved this way and, except those who have come to Britain under the Dubs amendment or family reunification law, they have remained in the camp, Bird said.

Help Refugees had to pull its volunteers out of the camp on Wednesday as the fires raged.

<strong>Firefighters work extinguishing burning tents</strong>
Firefighters work extinguishing burning tents
<strong>A police cordon at the bridge near the camp's entrance, as fires raged on Wednesday</strong>
A police cordon at the bridge near the camp's entrance, as fires raged on Wednesday
John Stillwell/PA Wire
<strong>Thick smoke and flames rise from the camp's tents</strong>
Thick smoke and flames rise from the camp's tents
Thibault Camus/AP
<strong>Washing still hangs on a line as a structure burns in the background</strong>
Washing still hangs on a line as a structure burns in the background
Thibault Camus/AP

Bird added: “[They children are] confused, and stressed. One kid had his shelter dismantled and he was having to sleep rough...

“A lot of these kids have already had their homes already displaced and already seen destruction and have got the psychological scars from that. For them to witness the destruction of their homes and communities again...”

On Tuesday evening, the double decker bus that served as a safe haven for women and children in the camp, burned down.

Help Refugees, which crowd funded to secure the bus earlier this year, said it was “unacceptable that children were not placed in safe accommodation prior to the eviction and were forced to watch the destruction of yet another home and once again be placed in even greater danger.”

The bus was chosen by actress and activist Juliet Stevenson who was “so sad” to hear of its destruction.

She added: “We don’t know who started the fires or why they started them. It’s not that unexpected that this kind of thing could’ve happened. The demolition shouldn’t have started until proper plans were in place.”

Yvette Cooper, who chairs the influential Home Affairs Select Committee, said she “deeply concerned” at the reports.

“There is nowhere else for [the children] to go and at a time when parts of the camp are ablaze this is clearly a perilous situation,” she said.

“The French authorities need to urgently act – children and teenagers safety are at serious risk.

“They need to immediately open up emergency accommodation such as the Jules Ferry centre in the camp to ensure that all lone children have a safe space to go to.

“I have spoken to Ministers and asked them to contact the French authorities urgently to take the fast action needed before it is too late.”

UPDATE 8pm: Help Refugees volunteer Nico Stevens said about 30 children were sleeping in the warehouse where registrations had taken place earlier on Wednesday.

Up to another 100 are sleeping outside the shipping containers in the cold but volunteers have not been allowed to bring them tents, leaving them sleeping exposed on mats.

“It’s really cold in Calais. It’s absolutely freezing and I’m wearing a ski jacket,” Stevens said.

She added other children were in the remains of the camp and found it was “mostly children” left there. “That’s really unusual for the camp,” she said.

Stevens also said French authorities had said they would not be registering people for removal on Thursday and those who remained in the camp faced being taken to a detention centre.

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