More than 20% of the 'Jungle' refugee camp's population had left ahead of today's (24 October) eviction planned by the French authorities, it has emerged.
Thousands of migrants, some fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, have gathered in their thousands on the French coast near the port of Calais in hope of making their way to the UK by sneaking onto lorries, hopping onto trains and even walking through the Channel Tunnel.
While the French government pledged to resettle camp residents in reception centres throughout the country, there have been increasing worries that the camp's closure would not stop refugees desperate to cross into the UK from heading to Calais. Without the camp, it is feared people would end up living in even worse conditions with fewer facilities.
For those choosing not to be resettled, this means living in squalid squats and woodlands, in very muddy conditions, with no running water and without adequate protection from cold weather.
The eviction is due to take place between 24 and 28 October and authorities expect 3,000 people to leave today.
According to the final census from Help Refugees / L' Auberge des Migrants, the final population of the Calais 'Jungle' on Monday is 8,143, meaning that more than 20% of the camp's population left the camp as eviction drew nearer.
While many have already moved to accommodation centres (CAOs), up to 80 people a day have been arrested, Help Refugees / L' Auberge des Migrants claimed, and it is feared that a large number of refugees will be forced into hiding. "Many more are now facing winter in camps with no infrastructure or support where they are much more vulnerable," the charities said.
These concerns have been echoed by Doctors of the World UK, part of the Médecins du Monde (MDM) network.
Unaccompanied minors up a 'staggering' 26%
In a worrying trend, however, those who remain in the camp include "an increased proportion of minors and unaccompanied minors", with the overall number of minors up from 1,179 to 1,496 and the number of unaccompanied minors up a "staggering" 26% from 1,022 to 1,291, the charity warned.
"Despite the arrival of fourteen teenagers in the UK last week, the situation for these unaccompanied minors remains desperate (...) with no specific provision having been made by authorities to guarantee the safety of children," the organisation said in a statement on Monday.
Citizens UK estimate over 200 children have been brought to safety in the UK from the Calais camp, including the first children without family ties to the UK – under the Dubs amendment – and another 20 young girls on Sunday.
"Although we wholeheartedly welcome the British government succumbing to public pressure and allowing unaccompanied minors to be reunited with their families in the UK, sadly, for over 1,000 remaining unaccompanied children, no protection is yet available," Help Refugees / L' Auberge des Migrants said.
"NGOs providing child services fear that because of this lack of contingency, many will disperse and go missing during the current eviction. We urge authorities in France to do everything within their power to prevent this, and those in the UK to expedite the cases of the minors eligible for resettlement under the Dubs amendment and Dublin III Regulation."