Page last updated at 16:44 GMT, Friday, 9 October 2009 17:44 UK

Calais migrants still in limbo


Migrants are sleeping rough under bridges in Calais

Two weeks ago, the makeshift migrant camp at Calais known as the "jungle" was shut down by French police and 276 people were arrested. But, as Emma Jane Kirby reports, almost all have since been released and many are now living in a state of limbo.

If the authorities in Calais have been getting tougher with illegal immigrants, then so has the weather.

It has now been raining solidly for three days and the Afghan migrants are huddled under damp bridges, their clothes drenched, miserably watching the streams of water that are soaking through their blankets.

Even the sandwiches they have just been given at the soup kitchen are so sodden they fall apart as they try to bite into them.

All of these migrants are "ex-jungle" and most were arrested there two weeks ago when it was closed.

The French government said the idea behind the camp's closure was to send a strong signal to people-traffickers that Calais was no longer the last stop over before England.

It also aimed to show the UK that Paris was making a big effort to stop the steady flow of migrants who were trying to sneak across the Channel.

So how come the migrants are back now?

'No other choice'

Ashatran was the last jungle resident I spoke to before the police came and arrested everyone.

We have no other place, so we just came back here and now we sleep under the bridges under the open sky

He is also the first person I see under the bridges.

He tells me he was taken to a deportation centre in Lille, but when he showed the authorities a paper proving he was trying to claim asylum in France, he was just let go.

He stole aboard the first train to Calais.

"We have no other choice," he says, shaking his head. "We have no other place. So we just came back here and now we sleep under the bridges under the open sky."

He had hoped he would be given a bed to sleep in while his application was being processed and was stunned when he was simply shown the door.

"The jungle is finished," he says. "They know we have nothing now... So I don't understand the meaning, I don't understand the purpose of these actions."

Liberated into limbo

In the queue at the soup kitchen there are more baffled faces like Ashatran's.

Migrants in Calais
Released migrants are now slowly regrouping in Calais

Almost all the 276 migrants who were arrested in the jungle have been released - some because they were children; others because they were already in the process of claiming asylum; and some because judges ruled that correct procedures had not been followed and the migrants' human rights not respected.

The problem is, they have been liberated into limbo. Scattered all over France, they are now slowly regrouping in Calais.

Shaffi, who ran away from the camp before the police came, says he has no idea what the authorities want to achieve.

"The French police are very hard - they give us many problems," he says.

"Every morning they catch us - some people they take to detention centres, some they release. I was taken to the police station this morning and now I am released."

Voluntary returns

The simple answer to why this is happening is that the French government is keen to make conditions here as tough as possible to discourage the migrants from returning.

Philippe Blet
In Calais... [the migrants] are just 40km from happiness. It's that simple
Philippe Blet
Calais deputy mayor

It is true there are fewer migrants here now than before, and it is true that there has been a marked increase in Afghan migrants looking for help to return home.

At the soup kitchen, Nazanine Nozarian, project coordinator for the International Organisation for Migration, is handing out leaflets to the migrants informing them about voluntary returns.

Many hands shoot out for the leaflets, which are written in six languages.

"By the end of the year, we expect to double the number of voluntary return applications from Calais," she says.

"We explain that the rules have changed, especially in the UK, and that the UK is not the promised land."

Warned to flee

Affredi is tempted to go home, even though he fears for his safety.

A former medical student from the Pakistan-Afghan border, he says his father, a local tribe leader, was killed in front of him after he refused to sign an agreement to work with the local Taliban.

Affredi also refused and was warned to flee.

"I came to Europe for protection," he says in surprisingly fluent English. "I came for shelter and human rights."

He points at the filthy pile of wet blankets under the bridge.

Migrant under bridge
Some migrants would rather return home than stay under the bridges

"I didn't know it would be this... Now I cannot think. I am no longer a human being."

He is a proud man and I can see he's trying hard not to cry in front of a woman.

"I decided to give myself up in the jungle because I thought the police would see I wasn't a criminal and that I was playing by the rules... I didn't know that it could get worse."

He says he is now seriously considering returning home and abandoning his dream of a new life in Britain.

"It's better to die in front of my family than to die of winter under the bridges here," he says.

Media stunt?

But there are many who still dream of that sweet new life in England and every day, a couple more migrants return to Calais in the hope of stealing across the Channel.

Philippe Blet, the Socialist deputy mayor of Calais, is frustrated. He claims clearing the jungle was nothing more than a media stunt and a farce.

"We're not solving the problem, the problem is still there," he says. "We're just papering over the cracks.

"We want to chase them away but they just keep coming back. It's unavoidable... It's England that has to sort out its immigration policy - not us."

"In Calais... [the migrants] are just 40km from happiness. It's that simple."

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