From the outset, it looked like any other morning in the French port town of Calais.
But as Monday, Feb. 29, began, French police and military began dismantling the southern end of the Calais Jungle, a refugee camp with between 3,400 and 5,600 residents.
Refugees from Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria, North Africa, and the Middle East have been converging on Calais for the past year. They are young families, single mothers, young men, and unaccompanied children looking for refuge from violence, war, and poverty in their home countries.
For these refugees, this small industrial port city in northern France is meant to be the second-to-last stop on their journey to a new life in the United Kingdom.
were trying to make this trip every single night. With both the French and British closing down their borders, its become harder and harder for people to leave Calais.
, living out of tents or other makeshift shelters.
There are stores, vendors, a mosque, services, a school even a theater.
Little by little, the residents of the Jungle are finding ways to return to normal lives. Sometimes thats as simple as a game of handball.
Of those children, 423 are unaccompanied.
of the Jungle and has proposed bussing the remaining refugees to other reception centers in the country.
So they stay, they wait, and they hope.
allowing police and the military to dismantle the southern portion of the camp, displacing around 1,000 residents who will be required to register with the French government and move into new shelters. Buildings of “cultural and social importance” like the school and theater will be allowed to stay. The people cannot.
A woman sits next to her tent. Photo by Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images.
For those of us with warm beds and running water, it’s hard to see why people would want to stay in the Calais Jungle.
But for the residents who live there, the Jungle and the communities they’ve built within it are all they have. Theres no guarantee that people moving into the new housing will be able to live alongside the friends theyve created in Calais. For some of them, that means starting over all over again. And some people aren’t willing to do that unless the move is one that lets them start rebuilding their lives in a more permanent space.
While its essential for refugees to have access to safe, long-term housing and services, it is also important to note the community they have built in Calais.