Migrant crisis: Adaptability is key to life in Calais

‘New Jungle’ residents are cheerful despite situation, but conditions are taking their toll

Archive video: Refugees staying in the ‘New Jungle’ near the French port of Calais take enormous risks trying to get into Britain. They are cheerful despite their situation, but conditions in the camp are taking their toll. Video: Kathleen Harris; Reuters

 

If Khamis Adam had been born in Ireland or England, he would probably be running his own accountancy business - or in politics, in television or on the stage.

“Welcome to the White House!” he laughs with a sense of the theatrical, as he gestures to the makeshift hut decorated with flowers.

The Calais camp sprawling over several acres of sand dunes has been the 30-year-old’s home since he left Darfur in Sudan, spent 11 days crossing the Mediterranean and travelled through Europe, walking the last stage from Paris to Calais on foot.

Adam studied accountancy and economics at El-Neleen University in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.

Falling foul of tensions between the two countries after South Sudan seceded in 2011, he was one of many arrested and detained in Khartoum.

He says he spent 22 months in the high security Kober prison.

He hasn’t seen his wife since he left Darfur, but is determined to reach Britain, find a job and send for her.

“She is about to graduate in medicine this week,” he says with a big smile. “And you know my main issue is seeing and being with my wife.”

Fighting on board

Determinedly cheerful, he describes how he has seen some of the worst of human behaviour - “400 of us, Syrians, Sudanese and Egyptians on one boat and a lot of fighting on board” - and some of the best.

“You have to be adaptable,” he says, recounting how he worked for six months in Libya to earn his sea fare, and how he and his friends made their own kitchens to cook food and built homes out of pallets and plastic provided by French non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

“Middle-class European executives pay large amounts of money to learn the sort of bushcraft and survival skills that these people have here,” one NGO volunteer remarks, shaking his head.

Adam has his health, but many of his friends and others he has met since arriving in France are not so lucky.

Dr Andy Young is a trainee in paediatric medicine based in Somerset, England, who has just spent a week of his annual leave as a volunteer with Médecins du Monde/Doctors of the World, which runs a clinic in the Calais Jungle.

Injuries

He has treated many injuries sustained by young men who have fallen off Eurotunnel trains or trucks bound for the “Chunnel” or ferries, or have cut their hands badly while trying to climb over barbed wire fences erected in the port.

“There have been injuries as a result of police brutality during nightly skirmishes,” he says.

This includes use of CS gas by police, which is a severe irritant to the eyes and skin, and pepper spray.

“Some of the pepper spray has been fired at very close range, causing burns to the skin,” Dr Young says.

The war wounded - for they resemble that - are carried back by friends to the camp after the nightly trek from the camp to the Eurotunnel entrance.

After the 5pm hot meal provided at the Jules Ferry Centre by the French authorities in the Pas-de-Calais prefecture, groups of young men with nothing more than a phone and the clothes on their backs stream out on to the motorway.

It takes two to three hours to travel the 13km.

“The gas, the dogs, are the worst,” Elias Ali, an Ethiopian law student who has experienced CS gas, says.

Dr Young says that he and his colleagues have been treating an outbreak of scabies at the camp in the past week and he has seen a number of people with respiratory diseases.

“Then you have the people who have arrived with chronic conditions that they may have had, or have developed en route, ranging from tuberculosis to epilepsy, HIV/Aids and diabetes,” he says.

“One man with diabetes hadn’t had access to insulin for several days, and his blood sugars were just off the charts.”

Young men in their prime who should not be getting sick are presenting with a high proportion of injuries and other conditions, because of the risks they have taken so far and the conditions they are living in now, he says.

Genuine refugees

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is in no doubt that a high percentage of the migrants reaching Calais are genuine refugees, and the French NGO Auberge des Migrants, which has been providing practical assistance in Calais, believes the number is at least 80 per cent.

The UNHCR has urged France to improve conditions in Calais, expedite asylum applications and ensure that there is a procedure for “humane and dignified return to countries of origin” for those whose applications fail “in accordance with international human rights standards”.

Auberge des Migrants volunteer François Guennoc believes there are immediate practical measures that governments could take, even as Europe stalls - and before winter sets in and causes further misery in Calais.

“The reality is that 70 per cent of the people I have met here want to go to England and most have families and friends there,” Guennoc says.

“They have come from former English colonies like Sudan or Pakistan, and there are Syrians who are 100 per cent recognised as being entitled to asylum because of the conflict there.”

“So why doesn’t Britain set up an asylum application centre here for those who don’t want to apply in France? Mothers should not be so desperate that they are trying to put little children over large wire fences.”

Camp’s migrant women face unique challenges

“We are not dangerous - we are in danger” reads the poster erected on a makeshift building, close to a shop set up by migrants in Calais.

The poster highlighting the situation of more than 3,000 migrants has already caught attention on social media, with writer Caitlín Moran posting it on Twitter - eliciting responses such as “in danger, what in France? How can that be ?”

Now that traffic on both sides of the Channel Tunnel is moving again, many thousands of holidaymakers could navigate the ring roads of Calais without witnessing the conditions in which migrants are being forced to live.

Police have endeavoured to keep the port’s centre clear by ensuring those without papers are moved out to the industrial zone known as “Les Dunes”.

A small percentage of them are women and children, some of whom have been accommodated in the Jules Ferry Centre run by the local prefecture to provide hot meals and washing facilites, but space is now at a premium there.

Their husbands may have succeeded in crossing the Channel to Britain, but they have no automatic right to join them there.

The UNHCR says that family reunification systems have to be reviewed to ensure people over 18 are eligible to apply.

In a situation where large numbers of young men of many nationalities have experienced trauma, French NGOs have expressed concern about the safety of some of the females in the camp.

Some may seek shelter offered by traffickers as a form of survival for them and their children.

None of the women approached by this newspaper were willing to be interviewed, photographed or filmed.

Auberge des Migrants volunteers explained that culture, and a fear that reports might be seen by families back at home, were the main reasons for this.

“They don’t want to upset their families who think they are in Europe and are safe and doing fine,” said one.