Tuesday

12th Nov 2019

Stranded in Calais, thousands make 'Jungle' their home

  • Asylum seekers headed for the UK are stranded in the Jungle (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

As darkness falls, the “Jungle” livens up.

After dinner, migrants and refugees in the camp near the northern French town of Calais, gather in groups and linger around the barbed wired fence separating them from trucks headed to the UK, looking for an opportunity to get on.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Meanwhile, dozens of French gendarmerie descend on the street at the camp’s entry in riot gear, trying to intimidate and stop them.

“This is the routine every evening,” said an aid worker on a recent visit to the camp.

When the weather is clear, the shores of Britain seem like an arms' stretch away.

Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Front topped the first round of regional elections here on Sunday (6 December), demonstrating that the fear of the “other” is once again gaining political ground in the heart of Europe.

The Calais camp, nicknamed "the Jungle" because of its location close to a forest, and because of the slum-like labyrinth of tents and makeshift homes, has been here for years. But the number of inhabitants swelled since the summer as hundreds of thousands made their way to Europe.

Now, aid workers say there are about 4,500 people looking for asylum who call this unforgiving muddy patch of land their home.

They are stuck in the bottleneck, escaping war and poverty, trying to make it to Britain to find work and safety.

The camp is a strange distillation of wars across the globe, and has become a symbol of Europe’s inability to deal with the mass wave of people running away from the conflicts.

'Shame'

Policemen are on guard in the street surrounding the camp, sunk in ankle-deep mud. It is a whirl of makeshift tents and tiny huts.

It has become a small town, which resembles ones in war-torn Afghanistan rather than in France. It has barber shops, small groceries, and “restaurants" - counters with wooden benches around it under a tent. They vary from courting Kurdish to Afghan tastes.

There is no electricity, but generators are humming in a few places. There is no place to wash or shower, but a few dozen, putrid mobile toilets were recently set up.

NGOs have said circumstances in the camp violate human rights and have called on the French state to act.

In November, a court in Lille ordered the government to install 10 more water stations, with five taps each, and 50 latrines. Heated tents are being set up to house 1,500 people.

As in so many other places along the migration route in Europe, aid groups are trying to fill the gap left by the state in providing help.

Here, they serve 2,500 warm meals a day, and, among other things, provide first aid and dental check-ups.

Ako, a 47-year old Kurd from Mosul in Iraq, which was taken over by ISIS in 2014, says he has been in the camp for 36 days. He says the UK and Europe should be ashamed of themselves for the conditions in the camp.

Aki, an English teacher, says he couldn’t find a smuggler who would take him with his three children.

“We hope European countries will come here to help, they should be ashamed,” he says.

A Kurdish flag flies high at a makeshift restaurant where tea is served for 50 cents.

“If you pay, it's safe, if not, then it's dangerous,” says one of them, Dani, a 35-year old Kurd, about the trip to the UK.

Depending on the trafficker, and how much people are willing to pay, smugglers can go from pointing out holes in the fence around the highway or the port, to arranging rides to the other side of the channel.

The rates can go from €1,500 all the way to €5,000.

Some people spend only two days in the camp, others get stuck for months, even years.

Standoffs between police and migrants resulted in violent clashes in November.

Among the migrants roughly 400 are women, half of them without a husband or male relative. Alone, they are more exposed to violence and, aid workers say, even rape.

French dissuasion

Meanwhile, there is little sympathy for the migrants from the French authorities.

Jacky Henin, a former MEP and a French communist, said the reason the French state is not interested in creating liveable conditions in the camp is fear that the Jungle would attract more migrants.

“Why is the EU financing humane conditions in camps in Turkey, when it is not creating the same conditions on its own territory?” he said at a meeting in Calais, held when a group of MEPs from the European United Left and Nordic Green Left group travelled there last Tuesday (1 December).

“The French government’s policy is to dissuade people from claiming asylum here,” said Philippe Wannessonn, an activist who regularly blogs about the Jungle and migration issues.

“Legal papers are most needed for these people here,” he added.

The crisis seem to have benefitted the far-right, as Le Pen focused repeatedly on the migrant camp in Calais in her campaign for last weekend's regional elections.

But the people who fled thousands of miles will not give up on reaching Britain.

Christian Salome, of the "L’auberge des migrants" aid group described a telling scene from the Jungle.

Every night there is a movie on show in the camp, and one particular evening James Bond’s Skyfall was on. “When the caption said ‘London’, 5,000 people screamed jubilantly. They want to go to the UK,” Salome said.

French migrant camps to get upgrade

A new camp with heated tents will be built near Dunkirk as house containers are made available in Calais, where thousands of migrants headed for the UK are stranded.

News in Brief

  1. Three new commissioner-designates pass legal scrutiny
  2. ECJ: EU countries must label Israeli settlement products
  3. Belgian asylum centre set on fire
  4. Xi Jingping in Athens promises new investment
  5. Farage's Brexit Party will not stand in Tory-held seats
  6. British founder of Syrian 'White Helmets' found dead
  7. Eight member states ask for EU aviation tax
  8. EU allocates €55m humanitarian aid to Sudan

Opinion

Europe's refugee policy is test of its true 'way of life'

As ex-national leaders, we know it's not easy to withstand public pressures and put collective interests ahead of domestic concerns. But without strong institutional leadership, EU values themselves risk ringing hollow, not least to those seeking protection on Europe's shores.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  3. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  4. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  5. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  7. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  11. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work

Latest News

  1. Pro-Israeli group scores own goal on EU retail labels
  2. New commissioners clear 'conflict of interests' hurdle
  3. Israeli labelling ruling lets consumers make choice
  4. What does Macron really want on Western Balkans?
  5. Far-right Vox celebrates, as Spain left without majority
  6. EU 'climate bank' won't rule out carbon capture
  7. New hearings for the von der Leyen commission This WEEK
  8. Bosnia wants explanation for Macron's 'time-bomb' remark

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  2. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  3. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  4. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  9. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  10. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us