Despite efforts to dismantle French camp, migrants keep pouring into Calais

CALAIS, France — The migrants from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere keep coming. Almost 100 a day arrive at this dusty, ramshackle camp perched at the edge of the English Channel, just 31 miles from Britain, their ultimate goal.

French authorities have tried for 18 months to dismantle the vast camp, known as the Jungle. In their last attempt, in March, when about 4,000 people lived here, they leveled almost half of it. But since then, the camp has almost doubled in size.

It is larger than ever, and it remains one of the most visible symbols of Europe’s inability to cope with the influx of so many desperate people.


Dazed and ragged, new migrants stumble up the industrial road from nearby Calais every day, past the graphite electrode factory and underneath the well-guarded highway overpass that serves as the entrance to the camp, where three Afghan boys recently took shelter.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Space has grown so tight that the fresh arrivals, mostly young men, spend hours looking for a free spot to pitch their tents.

“The situation is like Africa in this Jungle,” said Mohammed Zakaria, a 25-year-old Sudanese man who shares a 12-by-7-foot tent with nine others. As bad as conditions are in Calais, he does not want to go back to Sudan. But there is little chance for him or the others to press ahead. On Monday, President François Hollande of France reiterated his pledge to dismantle the camp.

French authorities have vowed to raze it by the end of the year, saying new demolitions will begin in October. Last week, amid clashes with police, construction began on a high wall to keep migrants from trying to sneak aboard trucks bound for Britain.

Already, 12-foot-high fences topped with barbed wire stretch more than a mile along the highway to the port of Calais to prevent migrants from storming the cargo trucks entering the tunnel under the channel on their way to Britain. There are regular police sweeps with tear gas to keep migrants away.


Migrants and their smugglers deliberately induce accidents to stop traffic so they can board trucks. This month, fed-up truckers blocked traffic bound for Calais on the English side of the tunnel in protest.

With no income and no means to make money, the migrants have little to do with their time but to wait for any opportunity to cross into Britain.

In the meantime, the camp has taken on an air of increasing permanence, to the frustration of local people.

“For six months they’ve allowed construction to take place, they’ve allowed migrants to arrive,” said the mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, who says the port is losing money and who has led protests against the camp. “There’s been a very sharp worsening of the situation.”