Press "Enter" to skip to content

ABUL TAHER visits Jungle camp in Calais, saying you pay a fee and they’ll keep putting you on a boat

Sitting cross-legged outside makeshift shelters, the men pore excitedly over tide charts, trying to plot the most favourable time to cross the English Channel.

The new Jungle camp in Calais, a scrubby field near the main hospital, is a kind of tented waiting room.

So few made it to Britain from the infamous old encampment, which closed in 2016, that it became synonymous with despair.

But this shanty town resonates with hope and anticipation. It is possible to get across, newcomers are told. 

More than possible. Large numbers make it every day: all you have to do is wait – and eventually you will be called. 

These days passage to England is going comparatively cheaply – as little as £350 in some cases. 

By far the toughest journey the migrants make is the one to Calais, and every day brings new arrivals, from Syria, Iraq, Sudan and Egypt.

How different to a few years ago when it was the final leg that seemed so hopelessly beyond reach. 

Back then, I watched migrants try, night after night, to jump on to moving trains, a perilous enterprise with a pitifully low success rate.

Now, however, even if a migrant fails the first time and his boat is intercepted, he has only to keep trying until he gets it right. 

Though it is far from risk-free, in most cases he – or she – will do so.

Best of all, explains Sajid Ali Khan, 21, from Lahore, Pakistan, you pay only one fee.

Khan was a mechanic in Germany for two years but when his work permit was not renewed, he came to Calais to make his way to Britain where he has friends.

‘There were 13 of us, from all different countries, including four women with children,’ he tells me. Barely had the boat travelled a mile across the Channel when the French coastguard appeared. After being returned to France, the migrants were released without arrest.

Normally, when migrants are intercepted they are detained for at least 24 hours and fingerprinted to see which European country they have come from so they can be deported back to that country under the Dublin Agreement.

But Khan says: ‘They just let us go and so I will try again. We paid 2,000 euros [£1,800] to the Iranians who say they will put me on a boat as many times as it is needed to get across to England. They are telling the truth because I know others have got across this way.’

A concrete path from the Calais hospital roundabout takes you to the new Jungle, its entrance guarded by a Police Nationale van. Everywhere there are charred circles from bonfires, many left by those who are now in England.

Trees with mangled branches torn for firewood dot the camp and yesterday I heard loud singing in Arabic and Farsi, a stark contrast to the subdued tension of the 2016 camp.

Local charities estimate that around 1,500 migrants live in Calais, all of whom are set on making their way to Britain. Others, mainly from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Chad, occupy a disused industrial park on Rue des Garennes, two miles away.

Back at the new Jungle, Khan laughs at plans to use the Royal Navy to stop migrants. ‘If they make it harder in one way, we will find another way,’ he says, sipping coffee and munching on bread supplied by a local charity which provides three meals per day. 

Next to him stands Abebe Haile, 34, an Ethiopian from the capital Addis Ababa, who claims to have fled death threats issued because he was an opposition politician.

‘The British Government should welcome us, not refuse us,’ he says. ‘Ask her [Home Secretary Priti Patel] when she wears clothes, where does the cotton come from? When she drinks coffee, where that comes from?

‘It’s from Africa. They should respect us. We will keep trying no matter what.’

His determination is typical of other at the camp.

According to official figures, more than 3,500 migrants have reached the UK this year from Calais, including a record of 235 in 17 boats last Thursday.

On Friday, 130 arrived aboard 13 boats and more than 2,000 entered the country using this route in June alone – more than four times the known total of 500 for the whole of 2018.

Back in the new Jungle, migrants use trees as clothes lines, draping jeans, T-shirts and even Islamic prayer mats across the branches to dry. 

The ground below is littered with food and carrier bags full of rubbish.

Poppy Cleary, a British volunteer working for charity L’Auberge des Migrants, rejects the charge that organisations like hers encourage migrants to converge on Calais.

‘They are leaving their homes because their countries are being bombed. They are refugees. What is wrong with providing some food, shelter and water to drink on such a hot day?’ she says.

As we walk across the uneven ground, a group of Syrians rise from beneath their tarpaulin and surround me.

Abu Amir, 31, says he is from the war-torn city of Aleppo and has been in Calais for ten months. He was a pharmacist in Syria and believes he will be able to resume that career if he can get to Britain.

‘The agents can put you on a boat for 350 euros. I have already done it once, but I was caught. I will try again,’ he says.

He is dismissive when told that it is difficult to become a legal resident in the UK and fulfilling his dream of becoming a pharmacist may prove impossible.

‘There is nothing here in France,’ he says. ‘I know there is security and work in Britain.’

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *