Do You Know Where You Are Going? (the 2016 eviction from the Calais Jungle)

a reprise from the migrant diaries:

Calais, FranceFriday October 21, 2016

The eviction is definitely happening Monday. Refugees and volunteers have a meeting this afternoon at the Khyber Restaurant and Annie, one of the long-term volunteers, goes through the facts:

The eviction will start on Monday at 8 am. People will be asked to go to a warehouse and queue in one of four lines: vulnerables, unaccompanied children, families, or single men. They will then be asked to choose from one of two regions in France, registered, given a colour-coded wrist band, and sent to a room to wait. Once there are 50 people corresponding to one destination, they will be put on a bus and dispatched to the accommodation centre at that destination. Those who are ‘vulnerable’ as certified by Médecins San Frontières (MSF—Doctors Without Borders), will go to an accommodation centre in a city where they can access the medical help they need.

Once there they will be asked for name and nationality and age and given a month to think about their options, which appear to boil down to: apply for asylum in France or risk deportation…

There should be 50 buses coming on Monday to take at least 3000 people away from here, and this process will continue all week.

What about children? someone calls out.

The first place to be cleared will be the containers, and all unaccompanied children will be brought back there and looked after by the French authorities. All unaccompanied minors will be interviewed by French and British officials there.

… So when do they start knocking down the shelters?

They will start clearing manually on Tuesday, no bulldozers, and if you want to take down mosques and churches and send them abroad to other refugee groups that will be allowed.

… What happens to people who arrive after the eviction?

No one will be allowed to stay in the camp after the eviction has finished. If they do or if they stay in the city or in small camps around, they risk arrest and deportation

… So what if we have Dublin fingerprints (meaning they have already been registered in another country.) [Ed.—Named after the Dublin Regulation of the European Union, which basically says that the first country in the EU which someone enters is responsible for the asylum process.]

The French Government says—but this is only a verbal promise—that those with Dublin fingerprints can still go to the accommodation centres and claim asylum here in France, but we cannot guarantee this will be followed through.

The questions go on. There is a quiet, depressed, and resigned feeling to the crowd quite different to when I was here this February. Then the government was refusing to acknowledge the large numbers in the camp while clearing half of it, and providing no alternative accommodation. The nightly meetings then were all about fighting the eviction through the courts, and how to prepare oneself to remain unprovoked in the face of possible police brutality. On this occasion, the ‘No Borders’ crowd don’t appear to be visible and no one talks about resistance, although many say they will just take off.

… I am going to Belgium tomorrow, the man sitting next to me says.

Please be aware that after the eviction the authorities are likely to be very tough with anyone found in Calais or the surrounding area, Annie emphasises again.

Saturday October 22, 2016


The Kids’ Café is packed. It is an offshoot of the Jungle Books Library and provides free food, a pool table, and plenty of space to hang out. Some of the boys want to discuss their options. I explain what I have learnt already: The process is straightforward for young people because after they have registered at the warehouse place and got their wristbands they will all be brought back to live in the containers. They won’t be dispersed across France.

… But then what? they all ask and the trouble is it’s not clear. The British government is finally getting its act together over those who have family in the UK, albeit too late and too slow, and I have already walked a couple of boys round to the containers where UNHCR has been registering them these days. But what happens to young people like 14-year-old orphan Abdo who have no family there or anywhere else? Or Afzar who is 12 and almost blind and who stands beside me in the Café in a too big white jacket, smiling and smiling. The Dubs Amendment, which has been stuck in a bureaucratic swamp these last months, remains opaque as to exactly which children are vulnerable enough to be considered eligible to come to Britain. [The Dubs Amendment to the 2016 UK Immigration Act offered ‘a safe and legal route to refuge in the UK for unaccompanied children’. However the UK government closed the scheme in February 2017 after taking only 350 children.]

What I tell the young people talking to me in the Café is that I think going through the formal camp eviction and registration process and then staying the containers is a good idea, much better than running away or risking their lives jumping on trains and lorries. If they are living there, they are getting food, clothes, and a dry bed while those advocating on their behalf know where they are and it makes it much easier to act.

A Somali boy, Adan, tells me he has tried lorries and trains nearly 100 times in last year but had to stop because he injured his leg. So he has no choice, he is definitely registering and staying in the containers. He actually has an aunt in the UK, she lives in Tottenham but does not answer the number he calls, so he does not know what to do.

Sunday October 23, 2016

The ratio of journalists to Jungle residents appears to be 1:1. It’s a cold clear sunny morning. There are small clusters of press with tripods and cameras on every corner.

Adan bumps into me on his way to collect his supper and insists on sharing it with me. While we are eating he  tells me how all his friends were being forced into Al-Shabab [an Al-Quaeda-affiliated insurgency group active in Somalia and Kenya] and if you did not want that you had to leave.

… One of my friends was forced into a black car and I have never seen him since. They call you on the phone and tell you to fight for your religion and if you say “no, that is bad Islam”, they say we will kill you. So I left. In 2014 I went to Dolo Ado (a refugee camp in Ethiopia).

He spent nine months in that camp. But there was nothing there for him and when some people offered him the chance to leave he took it. Adan then described a nightmare journey involving being crushed with 50 others on a truck. At one point the truck drove so fast to avoid an ambush his friend could not hold on and fell off and died. There was another crowded car which broke down, then a five-day trek across the desert during which they drank water mixed with petrol. Then he was imprisoned by an Egyptian boss man who made them work on his farm until they had earned the money to pay for the boat ride.

… Sometimes he made us work, sometimes he beat you like an animal, it was a game for him.

Friends helped him get out by collecting money and he crossed to Italy and made his way north, hiding in the toilet on the train from France to Italy because he had no money for a ticket. For the last six months he had been trying to cross the channel every night.

… You find a method to slow the truck and you have 3 minutes to get on. But the last time the police used tear gas and I got confused and fell over that wall between the highways. My friends took me to hospital.

He promises to let me know how things go the next day.

Monday October 24, 2016

Hamza runs one of the restaurants in the camp and is friends with many of the French government officials and he cannot believe how unprepared they have been

…. They did not bring enough buses! he expostulated. Everyone lined up and went quietly this morning, queued and everything and then they did not have enough buses to take those they registered to the accommodation centres! Can you believe it?

… They told me they did not expect so many to agree to the process on the first day. They were not prepared for people to be so cooperative! So they were not equipped. So people are registered and waiting in the warehouse to be sent somewhere and of course they are fed up and angry.

Looks like everyone did a good job informing people. All those leaflets and meetings helped, I say.

Hamza nods.

What about you, how are you? What will you do?

… Go of course but not yet. He smiles

Good. You are needed at the moment!

There is a small restive crowd of young people outside the entrance to the containers. Jake, one of the youth workers, is having an argument with the man behind the glass screen. He sees me and comes over.

… Crazy! Young people who have wrist bands and who have registered are coming back from the warehouse but because they are on foot and not arriving in buses he is not letting them into the containers. Young people who have registered are supposed to stay in the containers.

There are not enough buses. I’ll find a journalist, I say. They are all lined up on the southern edge of camp—bored with no riots and looking for stories.

And I do. A nice man with red hair, from a French TV station, listens to the story I tell and says he will go at once and ask the man at the container gate why he won’t let the young people in—good. Nothing like the power of the press for confronting obstinate bureaucrats.

Cornwall, United Kingdom: Tuesday November 1, 2016

In the end they cleared the site in three days.

And nothing has been solved. Migrant tents have increased in Paris in spite of regular clearances by police. The containers housing 1500 young people and children are totally inadequate. There is apparently no running water, not enough food, no activities, structure, or care of any kind. While the French and British governments argue over who is responsible, they refuse access to volunteers who want to help. Other children still sleep in the ruins of the jungle in far more danger than they were before when some kind of community existed.

I am furious with myself for trying to convince young people that the containers would be a good place for them to go. It is clearly not. But then finally I get Adan on the phone. He is just queuing for lunch. Not enough food and not enough water he says. But don’t worry, I am fine. He sounds really upbeat. Apparently he is getting a bus to another accommodation centre in France tomorrow:

Do you know where you are going?

… I have no idea.


Read more of this diary, Calais 2016, starts in the middle (after Calais 2015 and before Calais 2017, from which we have previously run a blog as an excerpt).

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a series of diaries about working with refugees and migrants that Lynne Jones has shared with FXB. We are honored to publish them. All opinions are those of Lynne Jones. Items in [ ] are editorial additions.

Lynne Jones, FXB Visiting Scientist, is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, writer, researcher, and relief worker. Her most recent book is Outside the Asylum: A Memoir of War, Disaster and Humanitarian Psychiatry.

*All migrant names are pseudonyms, personal details have been altered, and all have given permission for their stories to be told. All have known their photos were being taken.

©2015-2018 text and photos Lynne Jones