The Calais Jungle, Part 1: What do I owe my neighbour?

On the outskirts of Calais there's a ramshackle city of tents and plywood huts, home for thousands of refugees and migrants - Lebanese, Syrian, Afghan, Pakistani - from all over, the world. Just across the beach is the English Channel, and they all wait to cross it, to get to Britain and start a new life. They don't want to be in France, and the French for the most part don't want them. So they're stuck: they can't go forward, and they can't go back.

Mohammed: 'We're not allowed to take anything'

Ideas from CBC Radio (Highlights)

5 years ago
A Sudanese refugee Mohammed describes his dangerous journey from Africa to Calais, France. 0:59

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? Part 2 airs Wednesday, August 31. This programme won the Gold Award in its category at the 2017 New York Festival International Radio Competition.

 **This episode originally aired May 25, 2016.

Why so many refugees from Calais want to get to Britain 1:03


"If there is no war in Syria tomorrow, I will come back to Syria...I have not ever been in England, but I do not think that England is worth staying even one week in this situation."
-- Shadi from Syria

The citizens of this desolate city call it "The Jungle" with deliberate irony. To many, this windy, dirty scrap of land feels like a zoo, and the way they are sometimes treated makes them feel like animals, too. In the Calais Jungle, they try to smuggle themselves across the channel into Britain, in the meantime living in poverty and constant harassment from the authorities and from vigilantes.

Guests in this episode:

Aura Lounasmaa, Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London

Olivia Long, volunteer with Help Refugees at the Calais camp

​Hettie Colquhoun, volunteer with l'Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees at the Calais camp

Jess Egan, volunteer with Baloo's Youth Centre, running programmes for youth at the Calais camp.

Anya, volunteer with l'Auberge des Migrants

Mohammed, refugee from Sudan, trying to get to Britain.

Shadi, refugee from Syria, now an engineer volunteering at the camp

Related websites:

Photographs of "The Jungle"

At the beginning of March, a large area with shelters at the south end of the camp was torn down by the French authorities. This is what remains. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

The mosque built by the refugees on the south part of the camp. The French authorities destroyed the living shelters, but weren't allowed to take down any structure with a social use, such as a mosque, a school, a library. These are now mostly isolated in the middle of a wasteland. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

Mainstreet in the Calais Jungle. People will naturally organise themselves, and the Calais camp is no exception. The little stores along here resell goods that enterprising refugees have bought in local supermarkets- cellphones and prepaid calling cards are big sellers. There are also places to just sit and drink coffee. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

There are many children in the camp, so there are schools. This school is in the middle of one of the destroyed areas, so its dangerous for the children to get there- there's the potential for a lot of violence. Many children have stopped going to school. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

Some shelters at the north end of the camp, near the sea. Medecins Sans Frontiers has supplied basic 3-metre square shelters on construction pallets, made of wood and plastic, easy to move and rebuild. (Philip Coulter/CBC)




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