Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 13:58 UK

Returning to 'the Jungle'

After the French authorities closed the migrant camp known as 'the jungle' Andrew Hosken returns to find out what has happened to the migrants, and why Calais is the town most people are happy to pass through on their way to somewhere else.

What remains of the camp known as 'The jungle'
The camp where many Afghan refugees stayed is now wasteland

Arriving at Calais from England is to land at the start of the prologue to France, almost as if the place has not really got under way, arriving there from the other side, it feels as if the country just peters out, as if a wonderful book has come to an abrupt and rather disappointing ending.

How can this land of Paris, the Dordogne, Burgundy and the Cote d'Azur culminate here, in this place of wharf and crane, of wind tossed gull and watery green sky, where in something called a 'Brasserie Non-Stop', a litre of beer, a pile of chips and a bucket of mussels can be all yours for 10 Euros?

Like many port towns, Calais is scarcely ever an end in itself.

Most of us get there as soon as we can, only to leave at the earliest possible opportunity.


Over the years, I have visited Calais many times, usually on the way back from holiday or to report on the plight of the illegal immigrants who take very perilous journeys to get there, and are no less keen to get away from the place than the rest of us.

I went back there last week- again to talk to the migrants and stayed for what felt like an age.

"The jungle"
Conditions in 'the jungle' were dirty and unhygienic

This time I thought I would do a bit of homework about the city itself and popped into the Bureau de Tourisme off the main drag, the Rue Royale.

The staff were polite and helpful but they exuded an air of poorly suppressed bafflement when I started asking what there was to see.

As for books on Calais and its history? Terribly sorry- try the library.

Instead, the war museum in the Parc St Pierre seemed a safe bet.

The city has been caught up in war down the ages, from its subjection in 1347 by Edward III - who was dissuaded by the famous Burghers of Calais from carrying out a general massacre - to its destruction in 1940 at the outset of World War II.

Unfortunately, the museum was closed, and looked as if it had been for some time.

Besides, when it comes to war, there are always some real experts on hand.


Iraq, the Middle East and Afghanistan - you name it, refugees from practically every conflict on earth can be found wandering the Parc St Pierre.

And some know Calais extremely well too: which bridges to sleep under, which disused train carriage or unguarded warehouse to sleep in.

Of course, they are not really supposed to be there at all.

Along with dozens of other journalists, I was on hand last month to witness 600 gendarmes close down the main illegal refugee camp near the ferry terminals.

'We know most of them make it,' one charity worker told me. 'They always call us when they get to the other side.'

Known rather absurdly as 'The Jungle', this squalid, ramshackle settlement in the industrial zone was home at one time to nearly a thousand migrants, all hoping to smuggle themselves aboard lorries bound for the UK.

Around 270 were arrested and carted off to detention centres all over the country while the bulldozers moved in to destroy the camp which was by common consent dangerous and unsanitary.

But within days, most were quietly released by the police or by the courts and many made their way back to Calais, and even to the wooded remnants of 'The Jungle' itself.

Several attempts

Now they have no shelter and ironically, according to aid agencies, they may be ever more desperate for the services of the very people traffickers the French government vowed to put out of business.

Most migrants make several attempts before a successful crossing. Apparently, a storm or a big football match offer the best opportunities.

Long queues of lorries quickly form when bad weather leads to ferry cancellations, and the football has been known to distract guards and lorry drivers alike.

"We know most of them make it," one charity worker told me. "They always call us when they get to the other side."

Migrants who returned to 'the jungle'
Some migrants returned to the camp after being removed

The Dublin Convention requires migrants to claim asylum in the first EU country they enter, which for many is Greece.

The French try to interest the Greeks in their plight. To try and get the Greeks interested has even entered the French lexicon - 'dubliner', as in 'je dubline, nous dublinons, vous dublinez'.

But the Greeks are not interested and neither it seems, is anyone else.

In the meantime, the migrants have their own routine. At 1400 by the Qai de la Volga, a street kitchen serves lunch, at 1800 in the Rue Margolle, another serves supper.

The rest of the time they play cards or cricket or plan their escape or dodge the police or look for somewhere to sleep.

But mostly they haunt Calais, they haunt the streets, they haunt the docks and they haunt the quays.

These are scruffy, determined, frightened apparitions that seemingly no authority between London and Athens has the power to exorcise.

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