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Devastating scenes as flaming 'Jungle' is cleared

Towers of black smoke hung over the "Jungle" on Wednesday as fires raged through the ramshackle migrant camp in dramatic scenes -- but some holdouts were still refusing to give up their dream of reaching Britain.

The fires -- said by migrants and officials alike to have been started deliberately as operations to dismantle the camp began -- reduced the Jungle's flimsy shelters to charred husks.

Volunteers carried gas canisters out in a desperate bid to stop the blaze from spreading further as firefighters battled the flames.

But the fires advanced to the very edges of the camp, swallowing one tent after another and sending migrants fleeing with their meagre possessions in their arms.

"It's a disaster," said Rami, a 27-year-old from Sudan with a rucksack on his back. "My tent was burnt to the ground. Thank God I made it out in time."

Others saw the inferno as a chance to have some fun of sorts -- many took selfies in front of the flames, one kicked a football into the fire and a young Sudanese man got a bottle of cooking oil from a neighbour to try to set fire to a large green tent.

- 'I am not leaving' -

The squalid, lawless Jungle, a launchpad for countless attempts by migrants to reach Britain hidden in lorries or trains crossing the Channel, became a long-running sore point in UK-France relations.

By clearing it and sending the majority of its 6,000 to 8,000 residents to processing centres around France, the authorities hope to erase what had become a symbol of Europe's failure to deal with its migrant crisis.

But migrant slums near Calais have been cleared twice before -- Sangatte in 2002 and the original Jungle in 2009 -- only for them to be rebuilt.

Rami fears the French authorities may not accept his asylum application and he will end up back in another version of the Jungle -- and that there will be others like him.

"I will end up living on the streets. I think that will be the fate of many of us," he told AFP.

"That's why I believe, even though this Jungle is burning down, that some people will eventually return here -- where at least there's a chance of trying our luck in Britain."

The French authorities expected the camp to be cleared by Wednesday evening, but some are determined to stay and keep trying to cross the Channel.

As Wednesday wore on, an eerie quiet descended on the camp as the acrid stench of burnt plastic hung in the air, making it hard to breathe in places.

Among the holdouts was Aziz Yaacoub, a 25-year-old political science graduate from Sudan.

"Till now we have only been used as pawns: Britain pressures France to close the camp and France pressures us," he told AFP.

"I am not leaving. France is better than Sudan, sure, but I know I am not welcome here. I don't want to leave the camp and end up sleeping on the streets of Paris. 

"We left our nations behind us in flames, only to find the Jungle go up in flames too."

On the Chemin des Dunes road, near the Jungle, a dozen or so men from Darfur looked on as a shack burned. 

Though they had their bags at their feet, they have no intention of taking one of the buses to the shelters around France -- even with riot police making their presence felt nearby.

"I want to go to England, that's my dream," said 24-year-old Adam. "If the police come, it's not a problem." 

Topics: Europe , migrants , France , Britain , fire , refugee
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