Calais: A humanitarian 'no-man's land'?

Refugees seeking passage to the United Kingdom often find themselves mired in the Calais jungle: a humanitarian no man's land and de facto refugee camp. As many of the world's donors continue to spend more foreign aid within their own borders to cope with the influx of migrants, many wonder whether more or less will be done for Europe's trapped asylum-seekers.

The biggest problem facing the Calais jungle — a de facto refugee camp near the coast of France — is its location. Far from the temperate climate evoked by a coastal French town, the winters are rough. From October to April, freezing rains turn the Calais sand dunes to marsh. In the camp, ramshackle lean-tos and tents peel apart in the wind.

The location is all wrong for another reason. Many of the aid organizations that specialize in setting up and running refugee camps can’t go to Calais. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organization for Migration lack the mandate to work in France. In their place, volunteer organizations and a smattering of international aid groups have set up shop amidst the endless tarpaulin and scrap metal shelters.

Likewise, for most of the residents of the camp — more than 3,000 asylum-seekers — France is not the final destination. Most hope to cross the English Channel to the United Kingdom, where they either have family members or where they believe opportunities and likelihood of being granted asylum will be greater. Many refuse to register as asylum-seekers in France, afraid the paper trail will bind them to stay, or worse, lead them back to conflict-ridden homes in Syria, South Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Devex spent two days in the camp shadowing aid workers and volunteers, asking what the Calais jungle means for the global humanitarian system.

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About the authors

  • Molly%2520anders%2520cropped

    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a former U.K. correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.
  • Headshot anna patton

    Anna Patton

    Anna Patton is a freelance journalist and media facilitator specializing in global development and social enterprise. Currently based in London, she previously worked with development NGOs and EU/government institutions in Berlin, Brussels and Dar es Salaam as well as in the U.K., and has led media projects with grass-roots communities in Uganda and Kenya. Anna has an master’s degree in European studies — specializing in EU development policy — and is a fellow of the On Purpose social enterprise program.
  • Mihara naomi

    Naomi Mihara

    Naomi Mihara is a Video Journalist for Devex, based in Barcelona. She has a background in journalism and international development, having previously worked as an assistant correspondent for Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and as a communications officer for the International Organization for Migration in Southeast Asia. She holds a master's degree in multimedia journalism from Bournemouth University.

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