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Surprise! France’s Destruction of a Refugee Camp Isn’t Going Well

French authorities began to tear down the makeshift camp for migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais Monday.

A migrant looks at shacks burning during the dismantling of half of the "Jungle" migrant camp in the French northern port city of Calais, on February 29, 2016. Clashes broke out between French riot police and migrants on February 29 as bulldozers moved into the grim shantytown on the edge of Calais known as the "Jungle" to start destroying hundreds of makeshift shelters. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP / PHILIPPE HUGUEN        (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
A migrant looks at shacks burning during the dismantling of half of the "Jungle" migrant camp in the French northern port city of Calais, on February 29, 2016. Clashes broke out between French riot police and migrants on February 29 as bulldozers moved into the grim shantytown on the edge of Calais known as the "Jungle" to start destroying hundreds of makeshift shelters. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)

Early Monday morning, French authorities began dismantling “the Jungle,” a sprawling makeshift refugee camp in the northern town of Calais.

Paris called the move a humanitarian operation intended to break down the most squalid areas of the growing camp, where migrants and asylum-seekers from places including Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea, have sought shelter — often before trying to make it across the English Channel to the United Kingdom.

But when refugees began protesting the destruction — which will leave many of them homeless — riot police sprayed them with tear gas.

And humanitarians have criticized the French government’s decision to destroy the camp, pointing to a lack of resources to accommodate these refugees as a reason to build alternative camps before bulldozing the one so many are living in. At least 3,700 migrants and asylum-seekers live in the camps, although some aid groups put estimates at more than 5,000.

The Refugee Rights Data Project, a U.K.-based group that tracks displacement in Europe, reported Monday that 80 percent of the camp’s residents said that even if the camp is entirely dismantled they will just stay in Calais or move to another camp in nearby Dunkirk.

Help Refugees, a charity working at the camp Monday, said that French authorities are threatening to arrest residents if they do not leave their homes. Photos and videos emerging from Calais showed tents on fire and police spraying the asylum-seekers with water cannons and tear gas.

Foreign Policy has compiled some of the footage below:

Photo Credit: PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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