By Zubair Gharghasht
For refugees, hoping to find a home in Britain, life – of a sort – goes on, just across the Channel…
Sangatte, on the northern coast of France overlooking the English Channel, is best known as the location of a refugee camp, closed in 2002 following concerns it was a base for illegal immigration into Britain. The camp was run by the Red Cross to shelter 900 people, but it housed some 2,000 refugees. Shortly after its closure, makeshift camps – known as The Jungle – sprang up in the woods around the Calais ferry ports, but these camps also closed seven years later in 2009.
Zubair Gharghasht reports on the current plight of refugees who wait in Calais, dreaming of coming to the UK.
“On my arrival, I noticed how much Calais had changed since I last came in 2009. There were more fences but a lot less migrants – many had spread out to Dunkirk and Dieppe, while others returned to Paris.
“But some things hadn’t changed: life continues to be hard. The chasing by police has decreased, but living conditions seem more difficult; there is less disease but more injuries – I could not find out why, but it seemed a combination of things, from police violence to random accidents.
“Food distribution is centralized and fenced off: you could lock it and arrest everybody inside. But the activists broke the lock off one of the big gates, so migrants could come and go.
“There are water points and some shelters from the rain. Charities distribute food, three times per day. But the cooked food is still ‘slob’.
“I was invited into one shelter, covered with colourful blankets and tarpaulins, and, following Afghan tradition, offered food and a warm welcome. For a while the migrants forgot about their own struggles, they just wanted to know what it was like in the UK.
“Not all of them were Sans Papier (without papers), some had papers, but nowhere to live. Some just needed the company of their own people. They explained the chances of crossing were still the same. People still seem to cross, but some had been in Calais for more than six months, and the arrival of winter worried them.
“The migrants feel humiliated, treated like criminals and completely let down by the West. Still, most had faith for a better future.
“An activist who has been living with the migrants explained that the numbers are increasing again. While I was there, no one wanted to leave their shelters to try to cross the border in the rain.