The move to shut down the camp put further pressure on the British government to accept more of the refugees who have been piling up at Calais, especially the camp’s many unaccompanied children. Almost all the refugees had been hoping to make it to Britain. In mid-October, as the first young people arrived from Calais, some voices in the media and Parliament cast doubt on their asylum claims. One Tory member of Parliament stated plainly that some “looked older than 18.”
Momentum began to gather for a proposal that authorities perform dental checks on the young refugees to ascertain their age. The proposal was disavowed some hours later by the government’s Home Office, though it clearly struck a chord with the suspicions of many in the United Kingdom.
Charities and relief agencies protested vigorously that the camp should not have been destroyed until every child migrant had been safely relocated. President François Hollande of France had urged the new British prime minister, Theresa May, to “take your responsibilities and assume your moral duty by immediately organizing” the arrival of scores of unaccompanied minors who had been living in the Jungle. Mrs. May retorted that over 200 children had already been brought into Britain. She refused to make any further asylum commitment, despite the verified reports of hundreds of vulnerable minors left stranded in France.
As the week ended, only about half of the residents had been removed to other locations in France, while fires set to delay the demolition began to sweep through the camp. Local authorities had provided some converted shipping containers as temporary housing, but these were quickly filled, and unaccompanied minors were turned away.
A number of charities and aid agencies working on the site reported that minors with nowhere to go were forced to sleep in the open for several successive nights as autumn temperatures dropped. Volunteers cited in the media compared the situation to scenes in Lord of the Flies, as up to 1,500 unaccompanied children, some as young as 8, denied even fresh running water since last week, roamed the site while the demolition efforts employing heavy machinery continued.
At the end of October, French authorities said that the operation to shut down the Jungle had been successfully concluded, but Red Cross officials rejected this claim, noting that there were still many children stuck in the now overcrowded shipping containers. On Oct. 31, a professional soccer club in west London, the Queens Park Rangers, stepped in with an offer of a fleet of buses ready to bring the remaining children across the English Channel at a moment’s notice. Their local municipal authority, Hammersmith and Fulham, also put a team of social workers on standby, displaying a readiness to help that the central government in London had been unable to muster.
That magnanimous gesture was a rare counter to England’s increasingly sour mood regarding migrants. In his universal prayer intention for November, Pope Francis asks Catholics and people of good will to pray with him “that the countries which take in a great number of displaced persons and refugees may find support for their efforts which show solidarity." Britain is still not showing that solidarity, instead making excuses for the low numbers of refugees it is accepting, even if that means leaving children behind in great danger.