Tales from the Jungle

Tales from the Jungle
Arab migrants in Calais share their stories with The New Arab, as French authorities destroy their makeshift shelters.
5 min read
04 March, 2016

The Jungle in Calais

The Jungle; the infamous refugee camp in France's northern port town of Calais, a scene of makeshift shelters and poor sanitation, and "home" to thousands of desperate people trying almost daily to escape onto truck or train to take them to the UK.

It is a sight more reminiscent of a theatre of war than a place of refuge, as French authorities continued this week to evict a stream of the forlorn and the destitute, setting light to temporary homes, as those made homeless - again - watched the flames lick around their shelters, the ashen remains crushed under bulldozers.

The areas destroyed this week housed much of the camp's Afghan population.

The Syrians, Iraqis, Sudanese and the Bedoon - stateless people of an ethnic group from Gulf Arab states and Iraq - worry that their turn will come soon.

Walid [not his real name], a Syrian refugee from Damascus has been in Calais since October. He has a wife and two boys in Lebanon, and hopes to send for them to join him when he eventually reaches the UK.

He said the authorities would start destroying their side of the camp next.

"I think that after this they will start [razing] the northern part. They are following an eviction policy," Walid said.

"There are women and children, families, living in the southern part, in a women and children centre. They didn't give them a solution. They just want to remove everything," Walid added.

Bulldozers destroyed the southern part of the camp [TheNewArab]
Armoured police helped evict the destitute refugees [TheNewArab]

Many of the refugees who spoke to The New Arab simply have no idea what will they do after police destroy their shelters.

One said he would "follow what others do". Others were more defiant, saying they would not leave and will hold on to the fragile structures that have become their homes.

"We would build another place in Calais. We won't leave Calais until we enter Britain," Karim [also not his real name], a Syrian refugee who concealed his face, told us. He talked to us from inside one of the makeshift cafes that line some of the Jungle's muddy streets.

A makeshift cafe in the Jungle [TheNewArab]

But there remains a sense of confusion among the refugees, with many having crossed several borders to reach France, adamant to make the final crossing to the land where a better life awaits.

Stringent security procedures have made it virtually impossible to illicitly jump onto a transport to the UK through the Channel Tunnel.

Karim said that he had failed several times to enter Britain.

"We tried more than once, we got on a train, we entered the tunnel, but they stopped the train and returned us. We had crossed a good distance. The French stopped us and brought us back."

He said that in October a Syrian and an Eritrean were electrocuted and died onboard the train.
In pictures: Thousands face eviction as Jungle camp is cleared

Jumping on

Mohammad, a 17-year-old boy from Daraa in Syria, showed us his hands; badly wounded after he tried to sneak onto a train in the tunnel.

"We have to cross five barbed wire [fences]. Each one is five metres long, topped by razors and barbed wire," he told The New Arab. "Between each, there is a distance of five or six metres and security patrols... If we cross these wires, without being detected, we hide at the train station where the freight train crosses... which carries lorries."

He held his aching head between his battered hands.

"There are security and police at the station and you have to run to the train without them seeing you... You have to jump onto the train when it starts to move and accelerate a little and hold on to the metal bars. If you jump on the train after it has gathered speed you will die. This happened to many people. A Sudanese woman died this way."

Fifty metres from the camp's entrance [TheNewArab]

An Iraqi man from Salahuddin province who had spent six months in the camp also wants to go to Britain. He said his uncle lives there and he speaks some English. He does not know what to do if they remove the rest of the camp.

He said that another Iraqi was crushed when goods fell on him as he hid in a lorry heading for the UK.

Growing distrust

All those we spoke to did not want to go to shelters provided by officials - migrants say that the white containers in the camp adjacent to the Jungle were paid for by the UK, as "the French don't do anything good for us". A second facility, now already almost full, requires fingerprints be taken before accommodation is issued.

Many here are worried that if they do make it to the UK, they will be identified as migrants from Calais and the authorities will send them back to France. EU rules require that refugees claim asylum in the European state in which they first arrive.

We spoke to several migrants from Arab countries who all hid their faces from our camera. There is a strong feeling of distrust of the French, particularly after the refugees faced tear gas and water cannon as officers removed them by force.

'The police started the fire'

Monday saw most of the violence but on Wednesday, one of the shelters caught fire. Some British aid workers believed that it was started by a tear gas cannister that was shot at the structure where food was being prepared over a gas stove.

A refugee shelter in the Calais camp was set on fire [TheNewArab]

The French police stood far away from the incident, and did not interfere even to keep people away from the blaze for their protection, as aid workers and refugees worked to extinguish the flames.

"The French authorities are not good. They hit us and fire tear gas at us," one Kuwaiti-accented Bedoon refugee told us.

He has been here in the Jungle for 11 months. And why go to Britain? "Because it is the only state that recognises us [the stateless]," he said. "The only state that would give us our rights."

"This is a Jungle for animals, not for human beings."