Photojournalist Edward Crawford is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this social documentary photography. From his project ‘Au revoir la Jungle‘. To see Edward’s portfolio and stories click on any image.
In September 2016 Francoise Hollande on his first visit to Calais as the French president made a statement many had been anticipating. Mr Hollande claimed that he would close the migrant camp known as the ‘Jungle’ by the end of the year. His message to the people passing through Europe and making their way to Calais in the hope of reaching the UK was simple, “you will not pass through Calais or Dunkirk”.
The Jungle over the last three years has swelled to epic proportions and has caused the French authorities sleepless nights with hundreds of thousands of Euros being spent on constructing fences around the motorways, dock and Euro tunnel. International criticism about the squalid conditions and France’s reluctance to deal with the issue of migration are perhaps unduly critical. The French authorities had tried to contain what was at first a temporary solution but grew to be a problem. They installed electricity, running water, toilets and allowed unrestricted access to charities and volunteers. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ is a beautiful phrase and the jungle is an example of what happens when things don’t stay ‘out of sight’.
Mr Hollande had made his position clear, the camp was to go. International charities expressed concern over the fate of the migrants living in the camp. What kind of alternatives were to be offered to the Jungle? Refugee reception centers across France were ready to receive the occupants of the Jungle and the people would be given 4 months in which to apply for asylum in France.
The plan was simple. Hand out eviction notices around the camp in the upcoming months and inform the people in plenty of time about what was going to happen. The French authorities ramped up the rhetoric about emptying the camp to the disbelief of many. The French had previously closed the southern part of the camp amid violent protests and petitions from the camps residents. Many in the camp felt that destruction was an idle threat until the notices began to circulate within the Jungle.
The people were to be processed and then given a choice as to which region of France they wished to be taken. It sounded simple enough but the reality was that many of the Jungle’s occupants didn’t speak French or English, didn’t have any official form of identification and then to further complicate matters there were huge numbers falsely claiming to be under 18. Unaccompanied minors (those under 18) were to be taken out of the camp first and would be given a better chance of receiving asylum in the UK.
It’s little wonder there were so many fraudulent age and nationality claims among the people but this delayed the complicated process of clearing the camp further still. In terms of asylum there is somewhat of a pecking order in which asylum is granted. If a person is from a country with a continuous war eg Syria they stand more chance of being granted asylum than a person from Egypt or Guinea which are considered less volatile.
On Monday 24th October the buses pulled up in a disused factory and a makeshift processing centre was erected to deal with the migrants. On the Monday many people left of their own accord, happy to get away from the Jungle. By Tuesday the ‘evacuation’ continued and people gathered on the road outside the Jungle waiting for their chance to leave. From around 5am people stood on the cold, wet pavement waiting and by around 7pm the last of the buses had left. Despondent, tired and hungry, those who didn’t leave that day made their way back to the squalor of the Jungle. Tuesday morning the buses arrived and the process started again with people slowly being processed and boarding buses. It was Tuesday afternoon that the French put on a show for the press from around the world that had descended on the camp. Men in bright orange overalls in a great show of theatrics started to dismantle huts, shops and tents.
It was the night of the 25th that the fires started to erupt around the camp. From every corner large licks of orange flames began to take hold of the Jungle as residents rushed to salvage belongings and remove gas canisters. By Wednesday morning the situation was dire. Thousands had lost what little they had in their tents and now waited in line wearing damp clothing from the morning dew. The smoldering ruins of the Jungle were now a repugnant mess that the majority were happy to leave with only a few wishing to stay. Those few who wanted to remain said they would not leave and that the police would have to force them out. Wednesday came to an end and for the French police it must have been a merciful relief. The prospect of having to forcibly remove thousands of people is a daunting prospect for any police force and even more so with over 700 registered journalists watching.
The fires that swept through the camp had dampened any ideas of resisting the police. The Jungle lost its appeal that night. Many people had already left, hundreds of shelters were in ruins and putrid smoke wafted through the carcass of a dying, ash strew shanty town.
On Wednesday afternoon the Prefect of Calais had declared the Jungle evacuation was over and had been success. There were no more people living in the Jungle she claimed. It was unsurprising on Thursday morning to find more than a hundred still living among the ruins. Afghan children around 16 years old played rounds of cricket in the debris besides fresh smoldering embers while others gathered what little they could salvage from the remaining tents.
Fresh fires popped up here and there throughout the day but for the most part any remaining people left as quickly as possible. The evacuation had been a success in one form or another and had been completed ahead of schedule. By Friday morning the last stragglers were leaving the camp and only the ‘canned section’ remained populated. The ‘canned section’ was the small part of the camp where the French Government had placed shipping containers which were converted into accommodation for unaccompanied children.
The army of florescent orange clothed men had scoured the area like ants and were well into destroying any trace of the Jungle. Heavy machinery was brought in and the camp was vanishing quickly as the clearing teams worked at a fast pace, keen to make the most of the day light. François Hollande had vowed to close the Jungle by the end of the year, saying the camp would go “definitively, entirely and rapidly” and by November 28th he had honored his word.
The off shoot of the Jungle operation is what happens now. The people who went to the refugee centers are being given 4 months to register and then failing that potentially will face deportation. The people who chose to sleep rough in other parts of France (particularly Paris) are being moved on where ever they congregate. Many people who decided to hide on the outskirts of Calais and other small makeshift camps will continue to do the same as before until the police move them on. As for the constant wave of new migrant arrivals coming to France, who knows. One resident of Calais told me “the camp issue won’t leave Calais, as long as we have the dock and the Euro tunnel we will have a similar situation”. However, they cannot go to Calais as easily as before, they can’t go to Paris and Belgium is on high alert at the boarders. So now all that is left are two options for France’s new arrivals, firstly apply for asylum in France and second take even more risks by living in worse conditions and attempting to board lorries farther away from the port.
By Edward Crawford