Friday August 04, 2017

The Calais Jungle, Part 2: City of dreams and lost hopes

Inside the Calais Refugee Camp: slideshow and audio commentary by Philip Coulter. 5:42

For nearly two years the "Calais Jungle" was a ramshackle city of tents and plywood huts, home for thousands of refugees and migrants — Lebanese, Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani — from all over the war-ravaged world of the Middle East and North Africa. Just across the beach in Calais was the English Channel, the final barrier to Britain and the start of a new life. Those refugees didn't want to be in France, and the French for the most part didn't want them. And neither did the British. The refugees were stuck: unable to move forward, and with nothing to go back to.

Soon after this programme was recorded, the Calais Jungle was finally destroyed by the authorities, and the refugees dispersed throughout France. Philip Coulter visited a now-vanished city of dreams and lost hopes to ask the question: what do we owe our neighbour? This programme won the Gold Award in its category at the 2017 New York Festival International Radio Competition.

**This episode originally aired June 9, 2016.


"What is the welcome that we want to offer to the people that are coming from far away to get refuge in our country? We could be those people. How we would like to be hosted in a country if we were put in the same situation? This is the real question."  — Marianne Humbersot, head of mission, Legal Centre, Calais refugee camp.

North of Paris and to the east, near the border with Belgium, the city of Calais sits on the English Channel. It's a cold and windy place, but its great importance is that across the channel, just 50 kilometers away, lies England. Calais and England have been linked for centuries. Edward the Second laid siege in 1347, and after that the English held the city for more than 200 years. Today, England is again linked to Calais: on wasteland to the east there's a camp of refugees known as the "Jungle", 5,000 people at last count who have found their way here from the war-ravaged and broken lands of the east — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, as well as from Africa — Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt. They are trying to get to England and this is the last stop in their journey. Recently, the French authorities have been tearing down the flimsy wooden shelters the refugees have been living in. Its a health issue, they say, but it's really a message to move on. 

Guests in this episode: 

  • Aura Lounasmaa, camp literacy project and lecturer, Centre for Narrative Research University of East London

  • Charlie Whitbread, "human Swiss Army knife" volunteer with Care4Calais

  • ​Naomi Press, art therapist, Art Refuge UK

  • Marianne Humbersot, jurist, head of mission, Legal Centre

  • ​Rashed, refugee from Afghanistan

  • ​Paiman, refugee from Iran
  • ​Aziz Khan, refugee from Pakistan.

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