Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Calais, France by Pooja P.

Hey everyone. This week I received an email from a good friend in Europe. Pooja does a lot of good work for women's rights and general human rights. She recently visited a camp site of men from around the world trying to get into the UK from France to look for work. Thought we'd share her words and photos. Remember, give thanks.

For those in Struggle,
TYS Collective Brooklyn

Hi everyone.....

I was in Calais, France for a few days this week at the invitation of Nouri who is an Afghan migrant and a survivor of the Schiphol Fire that burnt down a refugee detention center in Holland 3 years ago killing 11 migrants.
He took me there to show the situation of migrants that try to get to the UK from Europe. Mostly of Arab, Eritrean, Sudanese, Afghan and Kurdish descent; these migrants are fleeing a devastated life in the hope for a better one and in the process many end up shredded to pieces or frozen to death!


Calais, France is the port of departure in France where the trucks, cars and buses get on the ferries to cross to Dover, UK. It is also the place where the Euro-rail goes inside the Channel Tunnel. The Channel is a 50 km undersea rail tunnel linking UK to France for those who dont know!! This gives the migrants 2 different ways to get to the UK. Jump on top of the train before it gets inside the tunnel or hide inside or under the trucks which then gets ferried across!! The truck journeys are longer (some last 12-15 hours) and more dangerous but the train is much more harder to get into.

I met a lot of people; all men; living in filthy make shift tents by the port or in plastic tents in the bushes around the highway right before the ferry crossing. Around the highways live mostly Afghan and Kurdish refugees inside bushes and brambles that they call "the jungle". It is strewn with litter; bottles filled with urine, dirty clothes and mudstreaked shoes all over the place. 
Nouri had lived in the refugee camp Sangatte in Calais for 9 months; 7 years ago; and tried to cross the border many times. He finally succeded to cross once but the UK police in Dover found him; put him in jail for 6 months in Birmingham and sent him back to France who then sent him back to Holland which is where he had initially applied for asylum.

We used this story to get into the jungle and the ports. The migrants all wanted to know why the hell we were there; and why was i there with a camera!!! They told me they were allergic to journalists because; "first come the journalists and second the police". Twice they told me to put the camera away and later apologised after speaking with Nouri since i was his guest there and it was rude and unhospitable for them to speak to me like that. After they realised i wasnt a journalist they asked me to come back again soon if i wanted..

The camps were divided up into various nationalities and races but they all came together during meal times. 2 times/day a French organisation would bring food by the ports and all the men came out from the jungles to eat. It was quite a sight.
A lot of young people; many were 15-18. We got talking to a young Afghan boy who told us in a non chalant way how he had sat inside a freezer truck that morning for 6 hours. "The oxygen in the truck finished and i was choking", he said "when some freinds opened the door by chance and when they saw me all blue they rushed me to the hospital where i was given electric shock"..."now i am fine again, i will eat, sleep a little and try to find a safer way" he said laughing!!

I was in the jungle sitting around the fire with some Afghans when another young boy walked up. He said something in Pashto and everyone burst out laughing. Someone translated "He just walked 100 kms. Some crazy truck driver told him he would take him to the UK and took him to Belgium instead; so he had to walk back from Belgium". They all cracked up laughing again. The young boy had a packet of biscuit and looked at me; "I am so tired, i am going to sleep. The bastard truck driver must have thought it was funny or something", he said as he waved goodnight!!!

2 Eritrean men i spoke to told me that had walked through Sudan and Libya; got on the ferry to Italy and then proceeded to walk to Calais. They had tried to get to UK 3 times but had gotten caught all 3 times.


Everyone was living outdoors. It was freezing cold and they all huddled by the fire which burnt all day and night. Sleeping in my hotel room at night with the smell of the fire in my hair was a constant reminder of the privilage i had! A warm room!!!
The men were asking me if i knew how to get to the UK. I told them that it was horrible in the UK and maybe they should stay right there in France instead and try to build thier lives slowly but they all said the same thing. "Noone gives us work here in France. Noone wants us here. Atleast in the UK we have a big group of our people; our communities; they help us with work and find a place a live. And none of us speak French."

I met a Palestinian man and an English woman there. They were engaged to be married but since the Palestinian man had no documents, birth certificate, passports etc.. there was no way she could take him to the UK. He had tried 5 times in 2 weeks to get to the UK but got caught all 5 times. As they finished talking to us; they walked away with thier suitcases to try one more time that day. The Palestinian man gave me a packet of tissue as a gift before he walked away!!!! "Our people dont let guests leave without a gift" he said while i was trying to convince him that i didnt need anything!!

I managed to film about 40 mins and take some photos when i thought it was ok..since it was my first time there i couldnt impose with the camera. But the people made me promise that i would come back soon and stay with them in the camp if they were still there. "We have a clean and special tent for you since you are a woman" they told me.

The French government does nothing for the migrants. They had a refugee camp nearby in Sangatte which they closed down about 5 years ago. When the police catch them they just bring them back and let them free in the streets again. There were a total of about 800-1000 refugees in Calais when i was there. All with no clean clothes, no home, no warmth, no money and desparate.

"I know what we do is dangerous,"said a man as he described how he hangs on underneath the trucks for hours,"a lot of people die. But what can we do? We have no choice".

I was there for only 3 days this time. It has been a life changing experience for me. I hope to go back there soon and hopefully record these stories as much as i can.

In Struggle!!


ferries said...

Its a nice informative post and I really enjoyed going through it. I'm a regular traveller between the UK and France, mostly by dover ferries. Eurotunnel is also a good alternate option to cross the Channel.

Cheap ferries said...

Nice post. ferries to France are truly an excellent choice as an alternate to any other travel option across Europe,really enjoyed going through it, I'm traveler between the Uk and France,ferries are such comfortable and easy to travel.