Located across the English Channel, the city of Calais is a key port city for migrants who are trying to reach the United Kingdom. The city has both ferries and the Eurotunnel rail route to Britain.
The Jungle camp has grown explosively in past months amid Europe’s migrant crisis, fueling far-right sentiment in both Britain and France.
Scores of riot police were deployed to keep journalists and volunteers out as helmeted workers tackled the shelters one by one.
The BBC reports that riot police used teargas in response to migrants throwing stones at them.
Prefect Fabienne Buccio, who had ordered the camp evacuated and dismantled earlier this month, showed up as the operation began. Her office decried “intimidation” tactics by some activists who she said were manipulating migrants into refusing to accept government offers of shelter.
“Really three houses out of four—I mean three huts out of four, or three tents out of four—were already totally abandoned with a lot of garbage inside,” she said. Migrants, she said, “had the time necessary to gather their belongings. The rest was good enough to throw away.”
However, cameras zooming into huts captured scenes of daily life fully intact.
The start of what is likely to be a weeks-long operation came four days after a court ruled that shelters could come down—but not common areas like houses of worship, a school, a women’s center and library, much of it built with the help of French and British volunteers appalled by conditions in the makeshift camp.
French authorities are offering to relocate uprooted migrants into heated containers installed last month nearby, or at centers around France where they can decide whether to apply for asylum. Many have resisted the move, fearing it will hurt their chances of reaching Britain, and some migrant advocates say there isn’t enough space in the new area.
The Associated Press contributed to this report