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Britain to blame for Calais, says German group

Britain is to blame the most for the Calais refugee drama, says Germany's refugee aid organization Pro Asyl. Its head Günter Burkhardt accuses London of "hiding behind fences" and denying migrants' legitimate interests.

Pro Asyl (Pro-Asylum), a Frankfurt-based grouping of churches, trade unions and humanitarian agencies, slammed Britain Tuesday as French authorities prepared to tear down makeshift migrant campsites in northern France.

Already on Monday, busloads of migrants had been transferred to reception centers elsewhere in France.

The British government carried "the main responsibility for the inhumane situation" at Calais, Pro Asyl chief executive Günter Burkhardt told the northern German newspaper "Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung (NOZ).

Instead of allowing access and examining applications for asylum, Britain was "hiding itself behind fences and refusing to consider the legitimate interests of asylum seekers," he said, especially for those who had relatives in Britain.

ProAsyl's chief spokesman also warned that the "Europe of human rights" found itself in a state of "dissolution," referring to the EU charter proclaimed in 2000 and UN Refugees' Convention signed in Geneva in 1951.

"We're witnessing a Europe of fences where everyone shoves responsibility on the next one," said Burkhardt.

Britain was behaving so toward France as the Balkan nations had behaved toward Greece in their fencing off borders in early 2016 and as the EU had behaved toward Turkey in a migrant-control deal reached last March, he said.

Europe's latest drive was to reach deals with Egypt as well as Sudan to get it to close its border with Eritrea. Both Sudan and Eritrea had records of "severe" human rights violations, Burkhardt said.

Demolition awaited

At Calais on Tuesday, French authorities assisted with British funding and personnel were due to demolish Calais' slum of migrant tents and fragile shelters among sanddunes.

Migrants from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Syria and elsewhere told reporters that they felt uncertain and still lacked information.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said by nightball Monday 1,918 people had been processed and sent by bus to some 80 centers around France.

Unaccompanied minors

A further 400 unaccompanied minors were being kept at the campsite in heated shelters.

In an 11th-hour gesture, Britain said it would take in nearly 200 teenagers, most children with relatives on its shores, but those transfers were on hold Monday.

Orderly, so far

Dismantling work would continue as long as necessary, Cazeneuve said, adding that so far the "operation" had proceeded in a "calm and orderly manner."

Estimates differ: The camp as of Monday held 6,500 people, according to authorities, but aid groups said their count was more than 8,300.

Up to 2,000 still wanted to reach Britain, said Christian Salome, head of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants' Hostel) charity.

Drivers relieved

Calais port's chief, Jean-Marc Puissesseau hailed an end to the "constant stress" of truck and train drivers who feared that their vehicles would be boarded by migrants determined to cross the channel to England.

Dozens of people have been killed on the road or while trying to jump onto passing vehicles.

Last March, riots erupted when French authorities razed half of the settlement - a year out from France's presidential election in which migration is likely to be a key issue.

Boat crossings

More than one million people fled war, poverty and abuses in the Middle, Africa and Asia entered Europe last year. This year, thousands more have risked Mediterranean boat crossings from Libya to southern Italy.

Germany's ProAsyl was established in 1986. Its founder, the sociologist and theologist Jürgen Micksch, is also chairman of Germany's Intercultural Council which campaigns against racism.

ipj/kl (KNA, epd, AP, AFP, dpa)

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