Authorities in France have started busing underage migrants from the razed Calais "Jungle" camp. The children have been moved to French reception centers as a feud with the UK over who will care for them drags on.
Buses carrying unaccompanied migrant minors departed on Wednesday morning from the site of a demolished migrant camp near the northern French port city of Calais.
French authorities hope to move all 1,500 youths still at the Calais camp by the end of the day using around 30 buses, regional administrators said.
The children are being brought to processing centers around France where British authorities would examine requests to reunite them with family across the Channel.
The youths had been temporarily housed in converted shipping containers as crews tore down the sprawling makeshift camp nicknamed the "Jungle." Around 5,000 adult migrants who were mostly Afghans, Eritreans and Sudanese were already moved to reception centers across France last week.
Most of the unaccompanied minors left behind at the camp are between 13 and 17 years old, according to the charity Care for Calais. Around 400 women and children are staying in a separate care facility nearby.
The fate of the unaccompanied youths sparked diplomatic tensions between France and the United Kingdom. Many traveled alone across the Mediterranean Sea and up through Europe hoping to reunite with family and find work in the United Kingdom.
European Union rules call for Britain to take in unaccompanied children who have family ties in the UK.
French President Francois Hollande pressed Britain to accept its share of responsibility for the minors while British officials demanded France take better care of the youths.
Britain sped up the transfer of child refugees in mid-October and has accepted some 274 children so far this year from Calais.
British Home Secretary Amber Rudd said last week that UK officials interviewed 800 children in the camp before it was flattened and said up to 300 more would be interviewed in the coming weeks.
She added, however, that not all of them would come to Britain.
Faced with an uncertain future, many youths who were relocated in France last week have already left the shelters.
"Around half" of the migrant minors have already slipped away from children's shelters in eastern and western, the head of the France Terre d'Asile charity, Pierre Henry, said.
"They want to return to Calais," he added.
The camp in Calais came to symbolize Europe's fraught efforts to cope with a record influx of refugees and migrants fleeing poverty and wars in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Following the clear-out, hundreds of migrants who left Calais set up an encampment of tents along a 700-meter boulevard in northeastern Paris.
rs/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)