PARIS — France on Wednesday began busing an estimated 1,500 unaccompanied migrant youngsters from Calais to other parts of France, after days of bickering with Britain over who should take charge of them.
The first busload of children left Calais, where a tent camp for migrants had been dismantled, for the southern town of Carcassonne, more than 1,000 kilometers away. Most were teenagers from South Sudan and Afghanistan, who hugged social workers before departing. They had been housed in shipping containers for days.
The Carcassonne site is one of 60 temporary centers around the country where the children will stay while British and French officials assess their situation on a case-by-case basis. Some may end up in Britain, where they may have family. Others may stay in France.
The United Nations and charities have criticized both countries for putting political interests over those of the children.
Even with the youths’ resettlement, said Isabelle Bruand, Calais regional coordinator for the Doctors of the World charity, nothing is resolved. She said authorities were just moving the children from one place to another in France, without any explanation and no proper planning.
But Save the Children humanitarian adviser Dorothy Sang welcomed the move.
«We’re really encouraged to see that today these children are being taken out of the dangerous situation they were in, in the container camps, to a safer environment across France,» Sang said. «But we will be watching over the next few weeks to make sure that this is really all done in the best interest of children.»
The youngsters count among more than 6,000 migrants evacuated from the vast tent camp at the edge of Calais. All hoped to end up in Britain, just across the English Channel. The French government ended those dreams last week, dispatching thousands of adults to different parts of the country, where they will either be granted asylum or face expulsion.
Bulldozers finished demolishing the tent camp, known as «the Jungle,» this week. But hundreds of the migrants have simply moved from Calais to the streets of Paris. Skeptics believe other tent camps will simply spring up elsewhere.