Crossing into Europe is not the only ordeal that African migrants face. Once in Europe, they have to negotiate camps before they reach their final desired destination. One infamous camp is in Calais, a port town in Northern France. New African sent George Ola-Davies to spend 48 hours with the stranded migrants there. His report makes for sober reading.
As night falls, torches, candles, oil- and solar-powered lamps and burning embers illuminate the otherwise sleepy mini-forest in Calais, a port town in Northern France. And as the sun gives way to darkness a beehive of activities can be observed from the main road. Most of the illegal immigrants here are trying to snake into their small tents, which have become their temporary homes as they seek to get away into their perceived Eldorado. Others get hold of their backpacks, ready to have a go at getting out of Calais into the United Kingdom. And then there are those who are so despondent they just don’t know what to do or what lies ahead. Theirs is an unknown future, their despair as inscrutable as it is insurmountable.
I have come to Calais to see how it is to be an immigrant desperately trying to get into the United Kingdom, which as of this month has tightened even further its already stringent immigration laws . The refugees and immigrants I have come to mingle with on this 48-hour assignment come from faraway places like Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Somalia and Bangladesh, and there are a few from Eastern Europe. Their current abode is derogatorily referred to as La Jungle or “the jungle”.
All the people I have met during my short stay here have one goal – to cross over into Britain. They have endured treacherous journeys, and some have lost friends and family on the way, but this last hurdle of crossing into Britain, is, they say, their most adventurous step.
Their camp was once a tranquil park where the people of Calais took walks or bike rides with their families or friends. But for a few years now, the park has been strewn with makeshift tents of all shapes and colours. The tents’ residents are here for many reasons: some are fleeing conflict or persecution, others are searching for better economic opportunities; all have sought a better life with the conviction needed to travel long distances at great risk.
Conditions in La Jungle are desperate; you would not wish them on your worst enemy. With no water, toilets or any other sanitary amenities to begin with, the camp would appear to be no place for the weak-hearted – yet it is “home” to around 1500 people.
There are only two makeshift bathrooms for the entire camp. The forest behind the tents serves as an open toilet. Some Sudanese refugees have dug pit latrines, access to which they closely guard. Many of the immigrants I spoke to admitted they had not had a bath for up to a week. The unsanitary conditions contribute to a putrid smell, which carries as far as a mile. In the absence of any dustbins, rubbish is strewn all over, and the filth, coupled with the absence of toilets and any form of drainage, compounds the sanitary situation and makes for a health hazard of enormous proportions. The situation is worse when it rains.
The immigrants fetch water from a standing pipe a kilometre away using plastic containers of all sorts. They are loaded in trolleys that were carted away from nearby discount supermarkets – Lidl and ALDI.