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“The Jungle” of Calais

In the last two years, a staggering number of refugees have fled their uninhabitable, war-torn countries for European ones. In October 2015 alone, Europe received 183,650 applications for asylum compared to 72,770 exactly one year before according to the Economist. European governments grapple with these numbers and struggle to accommodate the recent migrant/refugee upsurge within their respective institutional structures. Some even respond by ‘unilaterally closing borders and tightening asylum rules, hoping to discourage the large projection of arrivals’. What happens to the refugees who make their way to a European country before being granted political asylum? The Calais “jungle” establishment, situated in the northern Pas-de-Calais region of France, is one such example, and paints a grim picture of this reality. Despite being in one of the most developed countries in the world, the Calais establishment has been anything but sanitary for its occupants.

The Calais Refugee camp sits on the coastal region of Pas-de-Calais, France. Calais is a site of frequent transportation and trade between England and France. Most migrants built the makeshift, slum-like Calais camp in attempts to either enter England (drawn by the belief, according to the British Red Cross, that there is better housing and education available there) or seek approval for asylum in France. French authorities estimate that 3,000 people currently reside in “the Jungle”, although other estimates put the number higher according to BBC.

French and UK authorities, and cross-Channel operators, continue to improve security, but migrants have been breaching these barriers. This is where tension between state security forces and Calais migrants has risen: many riot police have been deployed outside the camp and in the region in order to cope with the large volume of migrants and get rid of gang activity within the camp. While the state police have been deployed to control the flow of migrants, it has not contributed to humanitarian efforts within the camp. Recent tension has, as cited in the WSJ, escalated in the past months, as authorities attempt to demolish the camp and “transfer migrants to a nearby facility with basic lodging in shipping containers ringed by fences“. This transfer has been a rocky affair: violent riots, with tear gas, have ensued between police and migrants who wish to remain in the camp. As of now, volunteers still make up the bulk of the humanitarian effort. The French government faces a real difficulty in finding a lasting solution for the Calais migrants. Although French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has promised 5 million euros to help turn ‘the jungle’ into a humanitarian camp, such promises cannot alleviate the present dire conditions of the people living in the Calais camp.

Since its setup in 2002, Calais has been referred to as a sort of “jungle”, and most recently, as The Jungle, without any quotations, a nickname which can be found in mainstream, international newspapers such as the New York Times. As outlined in the Guardianlanguage obscures the stories of people who may be teachers, traders, clerical workers, with their lives thrown into conflict, who, after battling across the continent to find a better life, find themselves in this unfortunate place”. In essence, denoting the Calais camp as a jungle creates an inherent negative association that serves only to amplify the issue. It dehumanizes outsiders, making Calais camp inhabitants perceived subconsciously as uncivilized, and thus generating more mistrust between the polity and incoming groups of refugees.

The Calais camp thus raises several institutional and moral questions. With little state help, once praised European political and social values, are undermined, with the language barrier further aggravating the issue. One end of the debate deems government accommodation a moral imperative, while the other, more conservative end, purports that the dramatic influx of refugees compromises cultural and national identity and general safety of a nation’s polity. Although a grand solution to the influx of immigrants coming to Europe is difficult to conceive, a more humanitarian, state-level solution should at least provide basic amenities, such as electricity, makeshift homes, and running water, to those migrants already on European soil. Additionally, a more societal based solution should aim to remove the associations between the Calais camp and a ‘jungle’ in order to disassociate animalistic qualities to the Calais inhabitants. The Calais model and others alike, without a doubt, challenge the state capacities and moral faculties of the French and European governments vis-à-vis the migrant crisis. Evidently, le droit de l’homme and contemporary refugee camp realities in Europe are at a turbulent crossroad.


– Enrica Claire


Photo: malachybrowne / Flickr CC

About Enrica Ferrarotti

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