Over 1,000 migrants rode buses out of the Calais "Jungle" on Monday as French authorities kicked off an operation to dismantle the notorious camp that has become a symbol of Europe's refugee crisis.

"Bye-bye, Jungle!" one group of migrants shouted as they hauled luggage through the muddy lanes of the shantytown where thousands of mainly Afghans, Sudanese and Eritreans had holed up, desperate to sneak into Britain.

Around 1,200 police officers — some in riot gear — were on hand as several hundred migrants lined up for coaches that would take them to shelters across France.

"We don't know yet where we are going, but it will obviously be better than the Jungle, which was made for animals, not humans," said Wahid, a 23-year-old Afghan.

The first coachload carrying 50 Sudanese left at about 8:45 a.m. local time, heading for the Burgundy region of east-central France.

By early afternoon, 25 buses were on their way with a total of 1,051 people aboard.

Police at one point intervened to break up a scuffle, but Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the operation was proceeding in a generally "calm and orderly manner." 

The Jungle's hundreds of unaccompanied minors have been the main focus of nongovernmental organizations' concerns.

In an 11th-hour gesture on their behalf, Britain has taken in nearly 200 teenagers over the past week, mostly children with relatives in the UK, but the transfers were on hold Monday.

Hundreds more have been interviewed by British immigration officials, and many are still awaiting a reply.

They will be provisionally housed with other minors, in containers in a part of the Jungle where families had been living.

Over the next few weeks, hundreds more young refugees will be arriving in Britain, the UK's home secretary Amber Rudd has said, but 38 councils out of 156 in England won't participate in their resettlement. 

Although this wasn't controversial at first, the issue ties into a larger debate that the UK is having. Simon Hall, home affairs correspondent for BBC South West, says the UK is grappling with "what our place is in the world" and its relationship with Europe.  

There's been a humanitarian push "to reach out and help some of the young people who are there," Hall says. But there have been questions about the fact that a number of the migrants appear older than 18.

"A few people are saying, 'We’re not sure about this. We’re not sure they are children, we’re not sure why they are here. We’re not sure they should be here,'" Hall says. "But a lot of people are saying, 'It’s a heart thing. We need to reach out. We need to help fellow humans, particularly young ones.'" 

On Tuesday, demolition crews will move in to start tearing down the slum, one of the biggest in Europe, where 6,000 to 8,000 people — among them, an estimated 1,300 children — have been living in dire conditions.

Officials said they were on target to move 2,000 people on Monday. The operation is set to continue through Wednesday.

Christian Salome, head of the Auberge des Migrants (Migrants' Hostel) charity, said the process was "working well because these are people who were waiting impatiently to leave."

"I'm much more concerned about later in the week when the only ones remaining are those who do not want to leave, who still want to reach England," he said, estimating their number at around 2,000. The interior ministry dismissed that figure as exaggerated.

On Sunday night, the police fired tear gas during sporadic skirmishes with migrants around the camp.

Riots erupted when the authorities razed the southern half of the settlement in March.

An aerial view shows white containters, tents and makeshift shelters on the eve of the evacuation and dismantlement of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais, France, on October 23, 2016.

Pascal Rossignol/Reuters

Located on wasteland next to the port of Calais, the 1.5-square-mile Jungle has become a symbol of Europe's failure to resolve an unprecedented migrant influx.

More than 1 million people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa poured into Europe last year, sowing divisions across the 28-nation bloc and fueling the rise of far-right parties, including France's own National Front.

Those seeking to smuggle into Britain, believing it to offer better chances of work and integration than France, have been converging on Calais for well over a decade. The first makeshift camp on the site of the Jungle dates back to 2002.

Over the past year, police in the northern town have been battling near-nightly attempts by migrants to climb onto trucks heading across the Channel Tunnel.

Fresh graffiti on the walls of Jungle shelters and shops reflected the fears of some that Britain may be slipping out of reach.

"I lost my hope," read one tag. "Is this justice? No," read another.

Karhazi, a young Afghan, sounded a defiant note: "They'll have to force us to leave. We want to go to Britain."

The redistribution of the migrants is a risky enterprise for Socialist President Francois Hollande, coming six months before national elections in which migration is a key issue.

Some French people have opposed plans to resettle asylum-seekers in their midst.

Migrants with their belongings queue at the start of their evacuation and transfer to reception centers in France during the demolition of the camp called the "Jungle" in Calais, France, on Oct. 24, 2016.

Neil Hall/Reuters

French authorities say those who agree to be relocated can apply for asylum in France. Those who resist face possible deportation.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of Calais port where migrants in January briefly occupied a ferry, told BBC radio he was "a very, very happy man." 

"It's for us really the D-Day," he said, hailing an end to the "constant stress" of drivers fearful of being ambushed by migrants. Dozens of youths have been killed on the road or trying to jump onto passing trains.

Puissesseau warned that new camps would sprout up around Calais unless police remained vigilant. 

A Syrian man told AFP he had decamped from the Jungle at the weekend to another site about 7 miles away, along with dozens of other migrants.

A total of 145 buses has been laid on over the three days to take adults and families to 451 shelters nationwide.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.

From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI