(UR) Calais, France — In France, at a close proximity to the south-eastern tip of the U.K. lies a small stretch of charred and almost barren land, not long ago a makeshift home to about 10,000 refugees from countries in Africa and the Middle East who had set up camp there with the hope of one day making it across the border.
The Calais Jungle, as it became known, was demolished last week and thousands of refugees were driven out by French authorities; but not before setting some of their tents ablaze as a final act of defiance following their clashes with the police in their failed attempt to resist the forced eviction.
Though a majority of these people were moved to shelters around France, the French government has failed to offer protection to thousands of others who have so far been left to fend for themselves on the streets of Paris or elsewhere, many of whom are children.
Photographer, volunteer, and co-founder of the Our Eye Is Life (OEIL) Collective, Julien Pitinome, who had been capturing stories from the Calais camps for over a year, was on the site the week leading up to the evacuation.
“The atmosphere had become more tense. The refugees didn’t know what was going to happen. They didn’t know where they were going and above all their aim to reach England would now be more difficult.”
Reminiscent of when half of the Jungle had been razed back in March, an action which merely drove refugees to flock to the northern side of of the camp instead, Pitinome reassured that this time it would be different: “This time it’s the end of the the Jungle.”
Many were concerned about the conditions under which people had been living in these camps. Problems ranged from lack of sanitation, to increasingly cold temperatures, and occasional tensions between different groups of people living there. Though the conditions were far from ideal, however, Underground Reporter interviewees assured the nickname ‘the Jungle’ was not so much owed to the dire conditions of the place, as French and other media would have you believe, but rather the campsite was more akin to the sanskrit sense of the word Jangal, denoting a more neutral notation of ‘forest.’
“The Calais camp was not the solution, it was not a dignified solution from our rich and traditionally welcoming country… [but] it offered a social and humane…life of solidarity,” Stéphane Trouille, an independent reporter who had been filming and documenting stories from the campsite for months told Underground Reporter.
“Shared spaces of coexistence were created bringing migrants, volunteers, visitors together…be it in canteens, schools, the theatre, the little bars, the areas for children, the sites of worship, the libraries, the radio…the month I spent in that camp was humanly speaking one of the richest and most intense months of my life,” Trouille affirmed.
Pitinome recalled one of the most engaging life stories he had been following before the Jungle was torn down: the story of a 7-year old boy named Ahmad, whose biggest dream was to have his own bicycle. After a long and perilous journey in the back of a refrigerated truck, Ahmad and his older brother reached England, where they were ultimately reunited with their family.
But not all children have been as lucky as Ahmad. Currently there are over a thousand underaged refugees remaining behind in the Calais wasteland after last week’s demolition, with insufficient food and water.
Though the French government has been quick to point out its success in temporarily relocating over 6,000 refugees to shelters, the thousands who are currently unaccounted for and caught up in the midst of uncertainty are more than enough to discredit the whole operation, which some believe was no more than a failed electoral stunt in preparation for 2017.
“France is the country of human rights,” said Pitinome in a final word to Underground Reporter. “And it’s forgotten that.”
This article (With the Calais Jungle Destroyed, Thousands Are Stranded All Over Again) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Elika Ansari and UndergroundReporter.org. If you spot a typo, please email the error and the name of the article to firstname.lastname@example.org. All images © Julien Pitinome, used with permission.