French riot police raid migrant 'jungle'

French riot police on Tuesday rounded up scores of mainly Afghan migrants in a dawn raid on a makeshift camp known as the "Jungle," used as a base to make risky attempts to reach Britain.

Minor scuffles broke out between police and some 80 activists who set up a human chain around the camp dwellers in the Channel port of Calais, but the migrants did not resist as they were led away one by one.

Immigration Minister Eric Besson said 276 people were detained in a two-hour raid involving 500 officers and he hailed the operation as a key blow to smuggling networks.

Besson warned of more raids to come on nearby squats and camps.

"This is the end of the law of the jungle and of people-traffickers," Besson told reporters as he toured the sandy scrubland, where bulldozers and woodcutters were tearing down the shacks and tents.

The camp's makeshift mosque was taken down by hand and Besson said its contents would be transferred to the Calais mosque.

The police operation "targeted the tools of the criminal gangs who sell migrants passage to Britain, exploit them and have them living in what had become an open air garbage dump," he said.

Nearly half the migrants identified themselves as minors and were to be taken to shelters, he said. The adults will be offered the chance to apply for asylum, money for a voluntary return home or a place in a shelter.

For adults who refuse, France would "consider a forced return to the country of origin," based on a case-by-case assessment of the security risks involved for them. He did not confirm how many of those detained were Afghans.

From a peak of 700 mostly Afghan Pashtuns in the "jungle" in June, aid groups say two thirds had fled ahead of the operation, heading to Britain, Belgium, Holland, Norway or elsewhere.

After a watchful night, the remaining dwellers rose at dawn with the muezzin's call, performing morning ablutions before bracing for the raid.

The men and boys huddled together behind banners that pleaded with the authorities for shelter, but were led away, some in tears.

Eighteen-year-old Bilal Hazarbauz said: "Maybe they will deport me to Afghanistan.

"But where else can we go? This is our home, there is no other place."

Besson said the Calais crisis was partly caused by the lack of a coherent European Union migration policy, saying states should agree to share the asylum burden more fairly, while boosting the powers of the border police Frontex.

Thousands of mainly male migrants from Afghanistan, Iraq and other troubled nations, have headed to Calais in the past decade to try to jump on a truck, ferry or a train crossing to Britain.

The "jungle" sprung up after the authorities closed a shelter at Sangatte, near Calais, in 2002 because of crime and British accusations that it was a magnet for migrants.

From Saint Malo in Brittany to the Belgian border, aid groups still count some 17 migrant camps and squats along the Channel coast, where hundreds of Iraqis, Afghans or Eritreans await their attempt at the British El Dorado.