Dozens of youngsters woke under the watchful eyes of French riot police on Friday after a chilly night outdoors near the "Jungle" migrant camp in Calais, as Paris and London squabbled over their fate and that of hundreds more bent on getting to Britain.
Charity workers offered them food and warm drinks, telling journalists that the youngsters were just a small sample of the scores of minors who are in limbo since the evacuation this week of the camp, now being demolished.
The vast site on sandy scrubland, a symbol of Europe\’s fraught efforts to deal with a record influx of refugees from war-ravaged zones such as Sudan and Afghanistan, was evacuated this week before bulldozers moved in to flatten it.
Government officials in the region say that more than 6,000 people had been moved out of the squalid, ramshackle camp and transferred to towns throughout France.
But concern has switched to upwards of a thousand isolated minors who have been put in large container-box shelters nearby or have simply not signaled their existence. Many want just one thing – transfer to Britain, which is almost visible across the sea from Calais.
In an overnight statement, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said he was "surprised" by declarations by British opposite number Amber Rudd and was counting on London to honor an obligation to take minors from Calais.
Rudd appeared to have raised eyebrows when she said France must protect migrant children still in Calais and suggested at least some of them should remain in France rather than be moved to Britain, which is obliged under EU law to reunite minors with family there.
According to a spokesman at her ministry, Rudd said: "Any child either not eligible or not in the secure area of the camp should be cared for and safeguarded by the French authorities.
"We understand that specialist facilities have been made available elsewhere in France to ensure this happens," she added in comments that refer to accommodation France has opened up to rehouse those who agreed to leave the Jungle.
A joint statement by Cazeneuve and France\’s housing minister said France hoped Britain would "quickly execute its responsibilities to take in these minors, who hope to come to the United Kingdom. This is the best way to give them the protection they are due."
The French statement followed media reports of unsupervised children sleeping rough around the port town since the clearance operation was launched, even though some 1,451 minors have been housed separately near the camp.
France says Britain has so far accepted 274 children from among this group.
European Union rules say Britain must take in unaccompanied children who have family ties in the country under so-called Dublin rules. An amendment to those rules adopted in Britain this year states that such minors whose best interests are served by doing so should also be admitted.
Smoke and dust spiraled from the heart of the site on Friday as demolition teams went back to work and one group of youngsters who slept a short walk from there emerged from blankets to take tea and breakfast from charity workers.
Abdul Hadi, an Afghan youth who reports his age as 16, says he spent 10 months in the Jungle but failed to register with the French authorities for help when the evacuation began last Monday.
"I hope I can get to the UK this week," he said.
Sylvie Poirier, a helper from the local Auberge des Migrants charity, says the official registration center where migrants were urged to sign up had now closed and that scores of people like Hadi are now roaming the streets, where riot police arrest those they find.