French Port City Becomes Final Way Station For Some Migrants' Odysseys

Aug 7, 2015
Originally published on August 7, 2015 3:26 pm
Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This next story takes us to the Jungle, the name used for a camp in Calais in northern France. The camp is filled with migrants. They've already come a very long way from the Middle East or North Africa. And now they're waiting for a chance to get just a bit farther to catch a ride through a tunnel beneath the English Channel to Britain. Here's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Maya Konforti grew up here in Calais. In the 1970s, she decided to explore the world.

MAYA KONFORTI: And I remember very well how a woman in Pakistan helped me when I was crying at a bus stop. And I was 21. I was very young. I was incapable of helping anyone. And I said, one day, when I'm capable, I'm going to do what she did for me. And so here I am.

SHAPIRO: Every day, Maya Konforti volunteers here in the Jungle with a local group called L'Auberge des Migrants. The camp is roughly divided into Little Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Ethiopia. Everywhere she walks, people come up to her with their needs and their hugs. Abdel Rov is from Sudan.

ABDEL ROV: This is my mommy.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: She's good, yeah.

KONFORTI: You remember my birthday. I cry and cry and cry.

ROV: I have your picture.

KONFORTI: You do?

SHAPIRO: On her 60th birthday recently, Abdel Rov and his friends threw Konforti a party with cake and a special knife to slice it.

KONFORTI: Homemade cutter wrapped in plastic and thread, the kind they use to cut through the canvas of the trucks.

SHAPIRO: Slipping into trucks like that is one way that people here try to cross the English Channel into the U.K. About two-thirds of the migrants in the Jungle hope to make that trip. The other third have applied for asylum here in France. For all of them, this is the last stretch of a long journey full of danger. When Abdel Rov fled the war in Sudan, he spent six months in a Libyan detention center. Then he crossed the Mediterranean in the middle of winter.

ROV: The boat is going like this.

SHAPIRO: Side-to-side, up and down.

ROV: Yes, yes, up and down. So in January, can you imagine?

SHAPIRO: He says the boat was so overcrowded, people were crushed to death. Eventually, he reached Italy, where police beat the migrants. He crossed into France. And five months ago, he came here to Calais.

I see you have a wedding ring. Are you married?

ROV: Yes, I'm married. I have the - one kid.

SHAPIRO: Where's your kid?

ROV: Yes, he's in the Sudan. But I have the longtime I didn't seen him.

SHAPIRO: How old is he now?

ROV: Three years.

SHAPIRO: When do you think you will see him and your wife again?

ROV: I don't know.

SHAPIRO: More than 100,000 migrants have arrived in Europe this year. Fewer than 3,000 are in this camp. But the situation in Calais has driven a wedge between the U.K. and France. Each country points fingers at the other. No one can agree on whose problem this is. And the Jungle is not like refugee camps in Italy and Greece.

KONFORTI: It's a jungle in the sense that there is no administration.

SHAPIRO: This is an unofficial camp where the government says it will tolerate people. There are no neat rows of identical shelters. Here, some people live in pup tents, others in plywood huts. But even in this chaos, the migrants have organized their lives and created a multilayered economy. There are shops, restaurant, mosques and bars seemingly built out of nothing. And beyond shelter, some people here have created art. We'll visit some of those highlights of the Jungle tonight on All Things Considered. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Calais, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.