Harriet Paintin and Hannah Kirmes-Daly spent a week at the refugee camp during its last days, collecting portraits, hopes and thoughts of its residents.
‘People in the Jungle don’t want this “solution”. This isn’t freedom! You can’t force people to claim asylum in France if they don’t want to,’ says Noor, one of the residents of the Calais 'Jungle'.
He, like many others, is affected by the eviction process of Europe’s largest autonomous, unregulated camp, which began at the start of this week, leaving nearly 10,000 people in a state of high uncertainty about their precarious futures.
‘This eviction is just happening for the elections: politicians need to show the French people that they are doing this’
The solution presented by the French authorities is to transport people to CAOs (Orientation and Greeting Centres) and detention centres around the country, where they can give their fingerprints and claim asylum in France. For those who do not want to do this – they have all heard the stories of France’s inadequate and slow asylum process – this ‘solution’ presents itself as a tricky dilemma. Many left the camp before the official eviction, to go underground without papers, to live an even more uncertain situation, to hold on to their dream of reaching the UK, or elsewhere.
Local residents in Calais remember a refugee camp in some form as far back as the 1990s; they, along with the people living in the Jungle, believe that the destruction of the camp is a short-sighted solution and that people will simply come back, and start again. We spent the week running up to the eviction getting to know and understand the complex stories of the inhabitants living in the Jungle, their thoughts on the evictions and what, in their opinion, is a viable alternative to the eviction.
Abdul is from Sudan, and first came to Calais in 2013. He made it to London, but was deported back to France after four months. He had given fingerprints here.
He has had papers and a flat in Calais since 2014, but still comes into the Jungle most days to spend time with his family and friends here. We sat and drank coffee with him in his friend’s home, made from recycled materials complete with kitchen and fireplace, talking about the history of the camp and his thoughts about the eviction.
‘Migration will never stop, and people will always gather at and move across borders. Building higher walls will never stop this! You can build it a bit higher but people always find a way to go through. So why do they put so much money into a solution that doesn’t work? You might as well put money into creating homes and employment. Around Calais there’s so many empty structures, factories, and there’s so many people here with skills. It doesn’t make sense.
For as long as there has been a refugee camp in the Calais region, there have been evictions. Still, each time, people return to pick up the pieces, build a small community, and start again
‘Quite a lot of us do actually want to stay in Calais; it’s become peoples’ home and they want to invest in their future in the town, getting apartments etc. It’s become somewhere we know in France and a lot of people are claiming asylum here. They don’t want to start again, again.
‘For some people the eviction will be good; that is, those who already have papers in France and those who want to claim asylum here. They will finally be able to access government support after the evictions. I guess that’s about 50 per cent of the people here, but the rest want to go to England and they will keep trying.
‘It’s so sad, but the Jungle has to finish – it’s a mess now. Before, people arrived and joined the community of people from their country, and they looked out for each other. Now, communities are forming for negative reasons, for survival, fighting. People quickly lose sight of why they come to Calais. There’s a hard drugs market and people lose their minds.’
Ranbir is a young journalist from Afghanistan. He came to the Jungle only 10 days before the eviction, after Germany denied his asylum case and threatened him with deportation. Quiet and soft-spoken, he said that he keeps himself to himself amongst the Afghani community in the Jungle for fear of facing similar problems to those he faced in Afghanistan.
‘My area in Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban and I had so many problems there after I got my BA in journalism and started working on the radio and in film. They said that I was breaking Islamic law. I tried my luck in Kabul, and different places around the country but their threats followed me. So, my family told me I should leave the country.
‘I worked in an Italian restaurant in Dresden, Germany, for 2 years. It took them that long to think about my asylum case before they denied it. I got a letter saying that they were going to deport me, so I legged it before they could send me back to Afghanistan.
‘I was really happy in Germany and I wish I could have stayed there. I learnt German, I was earning good money and I liked my job.
‘I don’t know what will happen after the eviction; I will go on the bus and give my fingerprints but I already gave my fingerprints in Germany, so I don’t know what will happen. Maybe they will deport me to Germany. I hope not, because Germany wants to deport me to Afghanistan.
‘If there was a 50 per cent chance that I would have problems before I left Afghanistan, it is 100 per cent sure that I will have problems if I get deported. They will ask me why I ran away to Europe, why am I trying to hide from them? This is why I left Germany before they could deport me. Now, I’m really scared of being deported. I’m only 24 but I feel like everything in my life is ruined.’
Noor is one of the many people in the Jungle who have already spent time in the UK and started building a life there. When his asylum was denied he left before they could deport him, and after unsuccessful attempts to get papers in other European countries he just wants to get back to the life he started in London, studying and working.
‘My area in Afghanistan was under Taliban control; now it’s Daesh. The government can’t enter the area. Also there’s some American or British soldiers – which one is it this time? All the Taliban did was destroy things and kill people. There’s just war now, and fighting. So, my family told me I should leave.
‘I was in Calais for the first time in 2008, back then we could stay closer to the town and the port in small tents. I stayed only for 25 days, it was easier to cross then. The police used to come and wake us up, chasing us out of our tents and spraying tear gas. They were just doing it for fun. For them, not for us. But it’s good exercise!!
‘Now, there’s more people and more facilities. But it’s also more dangerous; there’s robberies, fighting, stabbing, and there’s no one to complain to because the police don’t care about us. Once I saw a man in the street stabbed so many times that he was nearly dying, and the police didn’t call an ambulance until like, half an hour later. They take money and phones from people, shoes, they beat people and spray tear gas, and you can’t complain.
‘This eviction is just happening for the elections: politicians need to show the French people that they are doing this. After one month, the high security will be gone and people will come back and build camps again.
‘Migration will never stop. You can build walls a bit higher but people always find a way to go through. So why do they put so much money into a solution that doesn’t work?’
‘People have to give fingerprints to be transferred to the other camps, so for those of us who don’t want to claim asylum in France it’s difficult. Maybe we have to leave before Monday, hide out somewhere, and then keep trying to cross to the UK. A lot have left already, and they’re in a worse situation now. I’ve seen worse, I don’t mind!
‘Instead of demolishing the camp they should open the border to us. Not everyone would rush across the border, some people would stay here in France.’
For as long as there has been a refugee camp in the Calais region, there have been evictions. Still, each and every time, people return to pick up the pieces, build a small community, and start again.
This time, the size of the camp and the scale of the coverage may be bigger than ever before, but it does not mean that this eviction is a viable solution. Calais residents and Jungle residents alike recognise the long-term nature of camps at this border, and they alone seem to be capable of imagining viable alternatives which can be beneficial and profitable for all involved.
The camp may not return to Calais, but of one thing we can be certain: people will continue to come to France, people will continue to try and make it to the UK, for the same reasons they always have done, and evictions, relocations and higher walls will not change this.