Migrants in Calais have adapted to a life on the run / Credit: Mehdi Chebil
Migrants in Calais have adapted to a life on the run / Credit: Mehdi Chebil

Several hundred migrants remain in the Calais area in the north of France, risking daily police violence as they try to reach the UK. A report sheds light on the squalid living conditions in makeshift shelters there.

Despite being officially demolished in 2016, migrants keep returning to the "Jungle" camp in Calais, France. Migrants started to come back to the area of the rat-infested campsite on the North Sea just three months after French authorities tore down all structures they found there.

The news and information platform Refugees Deeply reports that today, there are 400 – 700 people still living in and around the "Calais Jungle" hoping to reach the UK as clandestine passengers on vehicles crossing the English Channel. This may be only a fraction of the about 8,000 residents that lived there before the informal settlement was razed, but it is an issue that continues to pose challenges to local law enforcement officials.

Hiding in plain sight

The "Calais Jungle" has not reappeared in its former shape. Instead, refugees and migrants stuck around Calais create makeshift communities with simple shelters that are continually torn down by the police. This is in line with French President Emmanuel Macron's pledge to ensure that the Jungle would not be re-erected and that temporary structures, no matter how minimal, would be destroyed.

Refugees Deeply reports that in August 2017 alone, authorities demolished 26 camps around Calais, with 103 shelters dismantled and 31 tons of material destroyed as part of one operation. In their push for repelling migrants from the area, police now also use drones to find locations where migrants might be hiding; among other means, police reportedly employ tear gas to drive out migrants, and confiscate any belonging they might leave behind.

With migrants' possessions thus being under such constant threat, many seek overnight shelter under bridges, in surrounding forests and industrial waste sites, according to Refugees Deeply. Those that don't own sleeping bags reportedly try to build makeshift shelters using tarp and blankets.

Calais / Credit: InfoMigrants

Recreating the camp

Aid organizations that have been on the ground in Calais since the beginning of the refugee crisis continue to help. Twice a day, they hand out warm meals, water, clothing and items for rebuilding shelters out of vans that are parked in various locations. They also provide Wi-Fi, electricity, information and legal aid.

With local authorities barely tolerating these actions, some of the migrants are reportedly dressed up as aid workers during these time windows. This charade has been coined as a "performance" of the "Calais Jungle" camp, which provided at least a nominal amount of shelter, safety and sense of belonging to migrants in the north of France.

Refugees Deeply sharply criticizes the police response to the migrant situation in and around Calais, saying that if France wanted to actually solve its "'Calais problem,' it should take up its humanitarian responsibility and design an asylum process that does not criminalize newcomers, nor threaten them with a forced return to their first country of entry."


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