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.
Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you FREE every business day.