Calais Refugee Camp Spotlight

Image Source: Wikipedia The "Jungle" seems to be an appropriate name for a chaotic mishmash of tents, huts, and container housing that serves as the semi-official Calais refugee camp. It sits outside of Calais, France, just across the channel from the UK. Because the refugees and migrants who temporarily live here are not registered or documented, their numbers are disputed. Estimates range from 3,500 to 6,000. Some have applied for asylum in France and are waiting to hear the results of their applications, but most hope to make their way to England smuggled aboard ferries, or hiding beneath lorries (semis and large delivery trucks) on their way through the Euro tunnel.

Since 2002 there have been various makeshift camps around Calais. The French authorities have periodically raided and destroyed these different camps since 2009. The current location of the "jungle," as it was originally dubbed by its inhabitants, is the largest and the only location that has access to electricity and running water. It is not uncommon to wait up to six hours for a turn at the showers. In the last few years several independent aid agencies like Help Refugees and Doctors of the World have been offering medical care and one hot meal a day and collecting clothes and other supplies for the migrants. The French government has not offered to help implement any long-term solutions, and the UNHCR has also chosen not to become involved.

The future of migrants and refugees living in the Calais refugee camp is uncertain. Just two weeks ago, the French police were given permission to evict those living in the southern half of the camp, an estimated 1,000-3,000 people. Their tents and huts were torched or destroyed and their protests were met with tear gas and flying stones. The aid kitchen that feeds hundreds every day is also within the demolition zone. Those who are evicted can rebuild their huts in the crowded northern part of the camp or accept a government offer to live in container housing that is secured and fenced off from the rest of the community. Most have chosen the first option. The container housing requires registration, and many fear they will never be allowed to leave France and seek asylum in the UK if they are registered.

The Calais refugee camp is one small piece of the refugee crisis that is affecting almost every part of Europe. Yes, Europe is overwhelmed with men, women, and children seeking a new beginning to a safer life. However, focusing in on one small area in this way is an important reminder that the refugee crisis is not some impersonal disease spreading out across Europe, but rather is made up of unique and beautiful individuals in desperate need of compassion and tangible assistance from their fellow man. The camp at Calais also serves as a vivid case study on the issue of safe passage. Safe passage refers to the need for new policies in Europe that allow migrants and refugees to safely and freely, in an organized and accountable fashion, seek asylum and resettlement in a European country. Safe passage policies would largely eliminate human smugglers and the dangers to migrants lives that are inherent in their operation.

Finally, Calais and the demolition currently being carried out by French authorities, is evidence that Europe is not immune to the blatant abuse of basic human rights. Many of the camp's inhabitants fled their homes when armed men ordered them to leave. Here, thousands of miles away and on a continent that has been known as a champion for freedom, they once again encounter armed men ordering them out. They came because they believed Europe to be a place of respect and dignity, but instead they have found a Europe where dignity is reserved only for Europeans.

For more information about the camp at Calais, and to see where the details in this article were found, please visit the following pages.

Calais: 'Jungle' Destruction Resumes - Al Jazeera

Life Inside Calais After Paris Attacks - Time

Stop Calling the Calais Camp the 'Jungle' - The Guardian