CALAIS, France, Nov 2 – France began moving about 1,500 unaccompanied child migrants from the site of a demolished camp to reception centres across the country on Wednesday, as a feud with Britain over who takes care of the youths dragged on.
The first busload departed at around 08:30 a.m. (0730 GMT) and was headed for the south of France.
The minors have been housed temporarily in converted shipping containers in the northern seaside town of Calais after demolition teams tore down the sprawl of ramshackle shacks and tents nicknamed the “Jungle”. Thousands of other migrants have already been relocated across France.
Most of the children left behind come from war-ravaged Afghanistan and Sudan’s Darfur region and are aged between 13 and 17, according to the charity Care for Calais.
Their plight has triggered a diplomatic row between Paris and London, with tensions intensifying in recent days after President Francois Hollande pressed Britain to accept its share of responsibility for the minors.
British officials demanded France take better care of them.
Many of the child migrants are desperate to reach Britain, which lies tantalisingly close across a narrow stretch of sea, saying they have relatives there.
European Union rules say Britain must take in unaccompanied children who have family ties. Britain has also made a wider commitment to taking in vulnerable migrant children under the so-called Dubs amendment passed in parliament this year.
France has said Britain has accepted 274 children so far this year from Calais.
British Home Secretary (Interior Minister) Amber Rudd told lawmakers last week that UK officials had interviewed 800 children in the camp before it was flattened, and said up to 300 more would be interviewed in the coming weeks.
But she added that not all of them would come to Britain.
As the stand-off persisted, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said he would meet with senior cabinet colleagues to discuss the issue later on Wednesday.
The Calais camp came to symbolise Europe’s fraught efforts to cope with a record influx of migrants fleeing war and poverty in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Faced with an uncertain future, the child migrants received coloured bracelets marked with the number of the bus they would be travelling on. British interior ministry officials were aboard the first bus.
An official from the Calais prefecture said the operation to relocate the children would involve about 70 buses and take two days.
In all, the French authorities say more than 6,000 people were evacuated last week from the Jungle camp to lodgings in towns and villages across France where their eligibility for asylum will be assessed.