French demolition teams acting on an eviction order have begun dismantling huts with hammers in part of the Calais migrant camp known as the Jungle.
They seem to be leaving inhabited huts intact as they move through the camp’s southern sector, with riot police standing by in support.
Two bulldozers have appeared on the periphery and a water cannon has been deployed although not yet used.
The government plans to relocate migrants to proper reception centres.
Those living in the camp, mainly from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa, hope to cross the Channel to reach the UK, often using people traffickers to try to enter illegally.
The authorities believe some 1,000 migrants will be affected by the eviction plan while aid agencies say the number of people living there is much higher.
Workers in high-visibility jackets could be seen tearing down structures and dumping material in a skip as police stood by.
Good Chance, a theatre group which works in the camp, said police were preventing activists from entering the camp.
“No volunteers access,” it said in a tweet. “People removed from houses. Police blocking entry. This is what they call a ‘soft demolition’.”
A long line of parked CRS riot police vans stretched along a nearby road.
French officials say public areas in the camp such as places of worship or schools will not be affected and describe the clearance as a “humanitarian operation”.
Conditions in the southern sector are squalid and the camp’s sprawling presence has become a controversial issue in both France and the UK.
The Jungle in numbers
- Total camp population is disputed – Calais officials say it houses 3,700, while Help Refugees puts it at 5,497
- Figures for the southern half (facing immediate eviction threat) are estimated at either 800-1,000 or 3,455
- There are 205 women and 651 children (423 unaccompanied), says Help Refugees
- Local government’s long-term aim is to have no more than 2,000 migrants living in Calais, says its chief, Fabienne Buccio
Officials say migrants have three options: they can move into heated container accommodation in the northern sector of the camp or to similar accommodation elsewhere in France, or they can claim asylum in France.
But many residents have told the BBC that they do not want to leave.
Save the Children’s emergency manager in Calais, Ginny Howells, said the decision would “make a terrible situation for children much worse”.