French police have begun clearing hundreds of mainly Afghan immigrants from a makeshift camp known as "the jungle" near the port town of Calais.
About a dozen vehicles carrying riot police arrived at the site on Tuesday morning and began moving the migrants to detention centres.
The move to take down the makeshift housing around the port is designed to halt migrants without papers from getting into Britain, and to crack down on smuggling networks that assist them, officials said.
Dozens of charity workers formed a human wall before some 100 migrants who carried banners saying "the jungle is ours"; but police encircled the crowd, arrested the migrants and loaded them onto buses.
Immigration Minister Eric Besson defended the operation, announced last week, which has been heavily criticised by humanitarian groups who say it will do nothing to solve the problem of illegal immigration.
"I want us to dismantle this camp which is a base for people traffickers," he told RTL radio shortly after the operation began. "There are traffickers who make these poor people pay an extremely high price for a ticket to England.
Many of the migrants cried and shouted as they were arrested and led away from the makeshift tent city.
"We have nowhere else to go"
One resident, Bashir, a 24-year-old English teacher from northern Afghanistan, told the AFP news agency he had paid $15,000 (€10,000) to travel to Europe through Pakistan and Istanbul.
He said: "We have no idea what the police will do, if they will take us or let us go free.
"But here we already made our place. We have our houses, our showers and our mosque," he added.
Juma, a 25-year-old from the Baglan region of Afghanistan who arrived in the camp last month after he was evicted from a migrant camp in a Paris park, said: "This is our home now.
"We have nowhere else to go. We spent everything we had getting here and have no way to leave."
From a peak of 700 mostly Afghan Pashtuns based in the "jungle" in June, aid groups say two thirds have fled since the government indicated it would close the camp in April.
"Most have left for Britain, Belgium, Holland or Norway, the others have scattered into thin air," said Thomas Suel of Terre d'Errance, one of a coalition of local aid groups.
The "jungle" sprang up after France closed a large Red Cross centre at nearby Sangatte in 2002 under pressure from Britain, which saw it as a magnet for clandestine immigrants.
Humanitarian groups say the high-profile closure of the "jungle" will merely move the illegal immigrants elsewhere in the area.
Scores held, including children
Hundreds of migrants, including children, have been detained in a police operation to clear a makeshift camp known as the "jungle" in the French port of Calais.
Some 278 people, nearly half of them minors, were held as police cleared and then bulldozed the forest camp of illegal immigrants seeking entry into the UK, an official said.
Al Jazeera reported that the mostly Afghan migrants were being held in centres where authorities were attempting to determine in which EU country they first arrived.
Under EU law, asylum seekers must claim asylum in the first EU country they entered.
AgenciesGüncelleme Tarihi: 22 Eylül 2009, 16:59