Migrants Find Short-Term Refuge In French Shanty Town

Nov 8, 2015
Originally published on November 16, 2015 11:10 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees have fled upheaval in the Middle East in the last few months. Many have been resettled after their arrival in Europe. But in the French port town of Calais, an unofficial transit camp has become a permanent shanty town. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley visited the camp and brings us this story.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Last spring, this migrant encampment was a vast collection of tents among the sand dunes. Today, the Jungle, as it's known by its inhabitants, has tripled in size and is more like a village. Some 6,000 migrants now live here. Generators hum as people make their way on bike or foot along muddy lanes between the makeshift wooden structures popping up everywhere. There are shops, schools and a cafe restaurant run by Pakistani migrant Ali Shan.

ALI SHAN: Do you want some tea, coffee, chai?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, I'm going to have some chai, yeah. Wow, you're cooking food?

SHAN: Yes, cooking food like chicken.

BEARDSLEY: Shan cooks up dal, spicy chicken and samosas while men sit on rugs smoking shisha pipes and watching a Bollywood film on a widescreen TV. Shan says heightened security around the English Channel tunnel has made it difficult to try to cross to Britain right now. So he and his cousins have opened this cafe while they wait.

SHAN: We also keep other people busy inside. They're warm. They come here. You know, at nighttime a lot of people, they come here and put the phone charging like this, watch movies like this. So they are busy inside.

BEARDSLEY: And not risking their lives trying to jump on trains to cross the channel to Britain, says Shan.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hello.

BEARDSLEY: The latest wave of arrivals to the Jungle include families from Iraq. Christian Salome is head of humanitarian organization Auberge des Migrants. He says the French government should build a proper refugee camp here, but politicians lack courage, and people are scared.

CHRISTIAN SALOME: In France, people has less and less job. And we are afraid to see people coming from another country. We are afraid by war refugees.

BEARDSLEY: Migrants aren't the only ones coming to the Jungle. Volunteers are also pouring in, stepping in where the British and French governments have failed to act. Many are from England.

SAID BUKARI: Now when I come, I see so many babies, so many families living in the Jungle.

BEARDSLEY: Londoner and humanitarian worker Said Bukari says Britain's commitment to take only 20,000 refugees over the next five years is disgraceful.

BUKARI: I think we could very quickly solve this problem. And the solution is not going to come through a better camp, really. But the actual solution has to be granting people the right to asylum in Britain and here in France.

BEARDSLEY: Bukari says many of these people have connections and family in Britain.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: I'm invited inside a tent with some French volunteers to meet 12-year-old Shefi from Kunduz, Afghanistan, a town recently seized by the Taliban.

WOMAN: OK, we have to take our shoes off.

BEARDSLEY: Shefi is alone since his father managed to cross to Britain last week, hidden in a truck.

WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: When the French volunteers say they'll try to figure out a way to reunite the boy with his father, Shefi breaks into a smile.

SHEFI: (Through interpreter) My father is far from me, and I just miss him. I don't have anything to say.

BEARDSLEY: The French government has begun busing some of the Jungle's residents to other towns around France in an effort to integrate them. The EU said this week it expects some three million migrants to arrive in Europe before 2017. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Calais. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.