At the northern edge of France, in and around the port city of Calais, lie several makeshift tent and tarpaulin camps known as « jungles ». These jungles provide a temporary shelter for the thousands of refugees and migrants flocking here. After the demolition in 2002 of the Red Cross centre in Sangatte near Calais, camps were spread out over the region, on the coast and the main road axes for trucks heading to the UK. Approximately three thousand refugees and migrants gather in the region in the hope of crossing the English Channel. They are Afghan, Sudanese, Eritrean, Ethiopian, Pakistani, Syrian among others. All looking for a normal and safe life which they believe will be easier in Britain. Here, they are only an hour-and-a-half ferry ride, away from their final destination: the UK.
For the refugees and migrants, it’s the last stage of a long and often very perilous journey. Some have been wandering around Europe for years, others have arrived more recently from their war-torn or poverty stricken countries. Since the beginning of 2014 the number of refugees and migrants has increased from 600 to about 3000. Most refugees and migrants are in their twenties, but there are also many teenagers travelling alone. Mohammed Ali (15) left Eritrea over a year ago, fleeing the harsh dictatorship and the oppression, indefinite military service and slavery that are part of it. “I survived captivity in the Libyan desert and a shipwreck in the Mediterranean” he said “I am not going to give up now, this is the last border to cross.
Although every day a steady trickle of refugees and migrants makes it across, many are stuck in the camps for months. They live in squalor, in makeshift tents, cabins and muddy camps, often without access to running water or electricity. Speaking about the harsh living conditions, Ragu (22) from Afghanistan said “Every day we die a little”. Like most refugees he had no idea how miserable the journey would be but he and his friends are confident that eventually they will reach the other side. “We have to go to the UK” they said “we have no choice”.
Many of the refugees and migrants are heavily indebted to human smugglers. Under threats of the Taliban, Dawran (19) fled Afghanistan, running up a 15 000 dollars debt. “We Afghan boys we want to go to school but the smugglers want their money. I have no choice but to try to go to the UK, where there is a better chance of work, and repay them. There are many young Afghans in the same situation.”
But the clandestine crossing is not without danger. Refugees and migrants injure themselves regularly falling of trucks, fleeing the police or taking desperate risks; some even die pursuing their dream. In 2014 an estimated 15 persons have died almost within sight of their ultimate destination, the UK.
Despite the wretched living conditions, failed attempts and fatalities, people keep arriving and making a desperate bid for a new life; waiting and hoping to find a way to cross the Channel. Some succeed but many more are stranded in this corner of France, stuck in limbo.