The Trap of Calais

“The New continent” started in the French city of Calais early June 2015. The project came to Calais because of the importance of its role in the Schengen space. It is one of the entry or exit points out/into the single space. It is also the closest point and shortest distance between the Schengen area (France) and the UK (non-Schengen). Many of the identified migratory routes for migrants wishing to reach the UK (from Turkey / From the Mediterranean sea, from the Balkans) lead to the city of Calais. As such the location of the French city constitutes a bottleneck for the incoming flow of refugees.

Is is certain that when the Schengen agreement was signed thirty years ago in the small town of Schengen, Luxembourg, the municipality of Calais wasn’t even suspecting it will become at the forefront of the European migrations issues of the 21st century.


When migrants reach finally the city of Calais the end is in sight. The coast of England is visible across the Channel a mere 32kms (20 miles) away. Calais is a strategically important location in the migratory route used by migrants wanting to reach the UK not only due to its proximity. Its position offers up to three different ways to reach the UK :

  • The first one are the numerous and frequent ferries between France (Calais) and the UK (Dover). The port of Dunkirk (Dunquerke) is also only 40 kms away with a similar setting and infrastructure. On a few occasions migrants have stormed the port in hope of boarding one of the docked ferries.
  • The second one is the vehicles using the ferries, trucks, vans, buses and cars. The motorway leading to the car ferry port sees frequent slow downs on the approach to the port as all vehicles have to be screened before entering the port. It is usually the moment migrants try to get inside the lorries in the hope of crossing if undetected to the UK.
  • The third one is the Channel tunnel (Le tunnel sous la Manche) used by the Eurostar and Euro tunnel trains services. The entrance of the tunnel is less than 5 kms away from Calais. The Euro tunnel facilities are also nearby.

With these three “options” this is where migrants arrive after weeks of crossing the European continent, some unaware there is more than a narrow stretch of sea, but also a border to cross.


The city of Calais has seen migrants reaching its municipality for many years. The situation in Calais has been reported thousands of times in media. One of the largest refugee camps in Europe was in Sangatte a town bordering Calais. In 2002 French authorities under Nicolas Sarkozy forced the dismantlement of the camp to a massive public outcry.

Later in 2015 local authorities turned a holiday camp Jules Ferry into a centre to welcome the refugees. It is a step in the good direction but the center is under-sized to receive and host the all migrants. It can only provide one meal per day and accommodate a few hundred at once.


In June 2015 an estimated 3000 migrants were “living” in or around the Jungle, an area by the port of Calais and next to the Jules Ferry Center. Most of the refugees were from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia and Eritrea. The flow of refugees since the start of April has been steady and even growing. An estimated 40 migrants are making their way undetected to the UK per day. With more refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea and eventually arriving in Calais it is expected the number of refugees in Calais will keep growing in the coming months.  There is a “lag” of several weeks for a migrant to reach the city of Northern France from the Mediterranean Sea and with daily arrivals from these migratory routes it is feared the situation will not improve in the coming weeks and months of 2015.

The “Jungle” in Calais is a shameful example of politicians bouncing the responsibilities between them. Meanwhile living conditions for the migrants are deteriorating.
The UK has given millions of pounds to the municipality of Calais in order to prevent migrants reaching the UK. This has led to another fence being erected on the motorway up to the port to prevent migrants climbing inside the lorries. Work is expected to be completed in July 2015. This will reduce furthermore migrants’ chance to reach the UK and will worsen the situation in Calais. The French government refuses to offer decent facilities and therefore refuses to acknowledge the existence of a problem in Calais. By not having any facilities to accommodate migrants authorities are sending the signal that the Calais area is not a place where refugees should be encouraged to come to.


The situation is dire for refugees. One asked me after going through many refugees camps in Bulgaria, Romania and Italy why there was no camp in France? After many failed attempts to cross many refugees run out of money after paying huge sums to passers. With nowhere else to go they become stranded in the Jungle. After weeks or even months of surviving there some decide to seek asylum in other countries. They buy a train ticket to Germany or other European countries. Sometimes they don’t have money to pay for a train fare but still board the train.

Some others do ask for asylum in France. When they manage to start an application they face many lengthy weeks of waiting for their documents to be issued, meaning more time in the precarious Jungle.


During my week in Calais I have met with several local, national and international NGOs doing tremendous field work helping the migrants. Many NGOs are active in the Calais Area but their presence and amazing work will not solve the situation in Calais. One of the volunteer told me they were “just a drop of comfort for the refugees in an ocean of needs”. The situation in Calais has to be addressed by the French and British government and other European leaders.

It is an despicable situation, reminiscent of scenes of displaced people in the poorest areas of the world. It is unthinkable in a 21st century European Union with shared responsibilities for two of the most economically advanced countries in the world.

I wanted to thank the NGO SALAM for their time detailing and explaining the history and situation in Calais. I equally wanted to thank l’Auberge des migrants for embedding me with them on several occasions. They are doing tremendous work on the field.

Lastly I wanted to finish on a less sombre note. During my week in Calais I have met a Syrian refugee and IT engineer. He was wearing his best shirt as he decided to go and seek asylum in Germany.  We agreed on an interview the day after. When I arrived to interview him he had already left and was surely on the way to a better life.

Platforme de Service aux migrants : http://www.psmigrants.org/site/la-psm/cest-qui/
L’Auberge des migrants : http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/nous-contacter/
Salam : http://www.associationsalam.org/-Nous-contacter


Update July 2015 :

I went back to the Jungle mid-july 2015. The situation has improved with drinking water distribution points set up, toilets made available and lamp posts set within the camp. A school has been open as well as a permanence by Medecins du Monde. NGOs have teamed up and are working together to improve the situation for the migrants.