After vowing for months to shut down an illegal immigrant camp near Calais, the French government began dismantling it, early Tuesday.
The operation to dismantle the Calais area camp was confirmed by French Immigration Minister Eric Besson, in an interview on French radio.
Besson rejects criticism over the closure, saying the zone, known locally as "the jungle", was not a humanitarian camp but rather a hub for human traffickers and a place where people were exploited. He says the law of the jungle cannot be tolerated In France.
Until recently, hundreds of illegal immigrants, many of them from Afghanistan, lived in the camp, hoping to cross the English channel to what they hoped was a better life in Britain. Many had arrived to the Calais squatter area after dangerous journeys through Asia and Europe.
As of Monday, there were about 250 illegals remaining. But local media reports many of them left before the police operation. The camp has become a source of tension among Calais residents and in France's relations with Britain, with London pushing for tighter border control.
As in several other European countries, the center-right French government has cracked down on illegal immigration in recent years. And, Mr. Besson says Europe must eradicate human trafficking.
But immigrant rights activists claim that closing the Calais camp does not solve France's illegal immigration problem, because many illegals simply move down the coast. That is what happened when the French government closed a similar camp in 2002. The illegals later moved back, and 'the jungle' was established.
Mr. Besson says the French government will be closing more migrant camps, along the coast, in the coming weeks. He says the migrants can request asylum or accept voluntary repatriation. Others will be forcibly expelled.