Calais: Rough Sleep In The Jungle

Tuesday 21 July 2009: The rumoured mass raids on refugee camps around Calais, France, known as “The Jungle” have so far not transpired.

Jungle Refugees Are Living In Appalling Conditions

Following our own journalist team’s night of stakeout on the road that cuts the two main sections of the camp in two, early this morning the Calais Migrant Solidarity Campaign reported CRS police fired tear gas into the Pashtun camp and arrested five people. Eritrean and Iraqi refugees were also reported as being detained in Calais centre. For the refugees, spread widely across the town, this was business as usual.

Trucks returning from the UK park on the road splitting The Jungle

Around 2.30am, due to our car being too small, I pulled out my sleeping bag and tried to sleep by the side of the road. I was very aware of how exposed I was there, as occasional police cars slowly passed observing us. Every hour a mass convoy of trucks would come from the port, many of them pulling up on the roadside – time for the drivers to rest. Some drivers would open the rear doors on their trucks to expose empty containers. With nowhere for people to hide inside the containers, this seemed to be a deterrent to the refugees. Besides, the trucks would be heading in the opposite direction to which the refugees wanted to go.

Refugees occupy themselves by playing volleyball

I must have fallen asleep for around 30 minutes when I sat up quick, hearing a lot of talking and feet on the gravel. In front of me came a group of ten refugees wrapped in blankets and old sleeping bags. All were Afghan. One spoke asking if I was okay, adding they thought I was dead. They seemed to know we were journalists watching the road for any police raids. Word gets around the camps quickly. But the man who spoke the most English remembered me from my visit a month before to their camp. “English journalist,” he said, smiling, “cigarette man.” More than half those in front of me were children, no more than 14-years-old. A few looked even younger. I asked if they were going to their camp to sleep. The eldest man – he was in his early twenties – said no. Several of them then signalled a walking motion with their fingers. We all shook hands, said goodbye and they slowly disappeared into the Jungle, in the direction of the nearby motorway.

Security sniffer dogs search for refugees

By sunrise it was clear the raids were not going to happen. Three CRS vans were being followed and monitored by a car full of activists. Others sat outside the largest Pashtun camp, looking totally exhausted after a night of a near-military style operation, of monitoring and information updates.I spoke with one of the Association Salam volunteers to get better idea of the situation. He said the raids to clear and destroy the camps had been promised by French Immigration Minister Eric Besson before the end of the year, but believed they would not try it this week.

The whole operation came about after Gordon Brown signed a £15 million deal with President Sarkozy in Evian, to further tighten the borders at Calais, Boulogne and around the Channel tunnel at Coquelles. In return, it seems, the camps are to be cleared forever.

The operation to round up and deport an unknown number of refugees across the entire city would be huge. The known numbers in the two main Jungle camps were around 1100, 600 in one cramped camp alone. It was known over 1800 were in and around Calais, but it was impossible to get an accurate figure. The three Jungle camps had grown rapidly, with new camps appearing every few days – Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians and Palestinians, Eritreans, Sudanese and Somalians.

December 2007

From my first visit in December 2007 to now, July 2009 it was clear this crisis had reached unbelievable proportions. Again, discovering the origins of the refugees was like a writing a global conflict list, each country facing one kind of foreign intervention or another, but it was predominantly the war on terror that had forced these people from their lands.


June 2009

But one thing that was more apparent than anything else, other than the distinct female minority in all nationalities, was the increase in the number of young children in the refugee camps. It seemed to me for every three adults there was one child, usually around 11 to 14-years-old.

Many of those I have met just in the last month were well educated, many spoke good English and until they forced to leave their land they had good jobs. Unfortunately, those good jobs in Afghanistan meant working as translators for the US and UK military, and for private security firms – a job which will get your entire family killed when the Taleban track you down.

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