CALAIS/LILLE, France (Reuters) - France transferred another dozen mostly Afghan teenagers to Britain on Tuesday as efforts to rehouse the most vulnerable migrants of the “Jungle” camp in northern France accelerated ahead of its demolition.
The departures, which still amount to a small portion of an estimated 1,000 youngsters unaccompanied by adult family members, came as a court rejected a request by 11 charities that the closure of the Jungle be postponed.
A first busload of children arrived in Britain on Monday from the “Jungle” camp near the French port of Calais as the British government started to act on its commitment to take in unaccompanied migrant children before the camp is destroyed.
The court in Lille rejected the plea by local charities for more time to organise rehousing of the thousands who live there.
“It’s now just a matter of days,” Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told parliament after the closure ruling was announced. “We are now nearing the moment when the operation will begin.”
A 16-year-old Afghan named Azizullah was delighted to be leaving the camp that has come to symbolise the plight of war refugees.
“My dream came true because I want to see my brother, I miss him,” he said as he readied to leave. He planned to join his 36-year-old brother, who works in a pizza restaurant on the other side of the Channel.
President Francois Hollande, facing an election in April, has promised to shut down the camp under local pressure. His government has already started rehousing thousands of Jungle inhabitants in dozens of towns and villages across France.
Regarding the specific issue of unaccompanied children and teenagers who have fled war zones such as Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan, the transfers to Britain are taking place under EU family reunification rules known as the Dublin regulations.
Charities has accused Britain of dragging its heels on such transfers, prompting a Franco-British meeting last week which has been followed by transfers of a dozen migrants like Azizullah in the past two days.
Reporting by Pierre Savary in Lille, Lucien Libert in Calais and Sophie Louet in Paris; Writing by Brian Love