Calais: The dismantling

24 Oct 2016
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MSF's Samuel Hanryon is in Calais as the dismantlement takes place. He describes the mood in the jungle as over 7,000 migrants face an uncertain future.

At the entry to the Jungle, the main strip gives the impression of a ghost town.

The various stalls, Afghan restaurants, and barbershops, are now nothing more than empty barracks with shopfronts obscured by plastic tarpaulins.

A few remain but with broken windows. They have been deconstructed for the use of their wood, a precious commodity with the returning cold.

The shop doors bear placards ordering the ‘immediate expulsion of 72 illegal commercial spaces’ of the Calais shantytown.

"Where will I sleep next week?"

A few surviving shops and restaurants continue to offer cheese naan bread, chicken and crates of tomatoes To the 6,000 migrants who still live here. Men bustle about the place, pulling on their cigarettes, speaking with incredulity, nervousness or resignation about the final throes of the dismantlement.

"Where will I sleep next week ? Nantes ? Marseille? Lyon ?" asks a 50 year old Afghan with a silver beard. Speaking neither French nor English, he arrived in Calais a few months ago with the sole aim to join his family in Great Britain, yet the announcement of the dismantlement has plunged him into anguish.

Behind him, Sudanese men pass by avoiding puddles, carrying bin bags full of clothes. Between the tents and the makeshift shelters, people are preparing for the move.

On the road again

At the welcome centre for unaccompanied foreign minors (CAMIE), managed by the Refugee Youth Service and MSF, backpacks are distributed by the hundred.

They contain a map of France, a poncho, instructions for free phone charging, and a little plastic information card in many languages explaining how to book a doctor, find legal counsel, or a shelter… A little kit that will become extremely useful..

As of Monday 24 October, all of the jungle’s inhabitants will be invited to leave by bus to the welcome and orientation centres (CAO) dotted throughout the whole of France.

The jungle will be razed.

A few seem impatient to go, having waited for a few weeks to be able to find warmth, or to lodge an asylum claim, imagining a future in France.

A group of Sudanese men warm themselves over a cup of tea, "The jungle is finished!" they happily proclaim, between two newly learned French words.

Most will take to the road again, clandestine and errant along the roads of Northern France. They will continue to attempt the crossing towards Great Britain, where family or close friends are often waiting for them.

Unaccompanied youths

The minors will wait a few more days in the jungle, hosted in containers at the provisional welcome centre (CAP). During this time, all of the family reunification demands are examined by the British officials.

This work has already started, raising hopes and fears among those migrants who feel isolated already..

In the last few days, nearly 200 minors have already left here to rejoin their families in Great Britain.

In front of the entrance to the CAP containers, people lodge their demands and the horseplay continues. And if a positive response comes back, the lucky person leaves full of joy, happiness among their group of friends, "England! England!".

Not all will have this chance. Many will be sent to CAOMIE, the system that manages minors.

Bitterly, Ali remarks: "I want to go to the UK to join my uncle. I’ve tried the crossing many times, buy it never worked. I too will ask to go to the UK, but I’m not hopeful. And if this doesn’t work, what then? Maybe I will try to stay in France alone. I still don’t know where I will sleep next week".