The Calais jungle is the nickname given to a migrant encampment in the vicinity of Calais, France, where migrants live while they attempt to enter the United Kingdom. The migrants, who frequently stow away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains travelling through the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel terminus, are a mixture of refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants.
Location and conditions
There have been various “jungle” camps around Calais since 2002, where migrants set up camp on unoccupied land, moving to new locations when camps are closed down by the French authorities. At the same time other migrants squat in abandoned buildings. In April 2015, The Guardian reported that the “official” and principal “jungle” in Calais was located at a former landfill site, five kilometers (three miles) from the centre of town, and occupied by 1,000 of the 6,000 migrants in Calais. According to the paper, it was one of nine camps then existing in Calais. This jungle for the first time had showers, electricity and toilets, plus one hot meal served per day, but without proper accommodation.
A Red Cross reception centre named Sangatte was opened near the Port of Calais in 1999 but rapidly became overcrowded. The original “jungle” was established in the woods around the Port after Sangatte was closed in November 2002 by Sarkozy, then French Minister of the Interior. There were riots in 2001 and 2002, the year Sangatte closed.
In an April 2009 raid on a migrant camp, the French authorities arrested 190 and used bulldozers to destroy tents, but by July 2009 a new camp had been established which the BBC estimated had 800 inhabitants. In a dawn raid in September 2009, the French authorities closed down a camp occupied by 700–800 migrants and detained 276 people.
The majority of the inhabitants of the camp come from conflict-affected countries. The migrants in Calais are mostly young men, with about 62% of the population being men with a mean age of 33, of non-European origin. The mix of nationalities has changed over time, with Kurdish Iraqis being the largest group initially, but by 2014 a growing number of people were also from the Horn of Africa and Sudan. Many of the Kurdish Iraqis later moved to similar camps near Calais and Dunkirk Most of the refugees do not speak the French language, and are attempting to enter the British labour market to work illegally rather than claim asylum in France, although the number claiming asylum has risen since the procedures were revised in 2014.
Although no worse than many camps, the juxtaposition of the shanty town and developed world is stark: according to Médecins Sans Frontières there is some access to water including some showers (sometimes after up to six hours queuing), some food is distributed, and heat is available during cold weather, but sanitation is poor and there are issues of water quality. Care services are offered by Médecins du Monde and Médecins Sans Frontières and, according to UK charity Human Relief Foundation, the migrant population is generally healthy. Educational services have been provided to the refugees by Jungle Books, by the Ecole Laique du chemins des dunes and by Edlumino. Some quasi-legal enterprises exist but substance abuse and petty crime is widespread.
In January 2016, a complex of 125 container housing units for 1500 people was opened by the French government, to increase sanitary conditions in the area. But because registration is mandatory for migrants who want to live in the units, the units are mostly vacant, as migrants fear that registration will prevent them from living in the UK.