Some leaving Calais camp have fond memories of the Jungle

By James McAuley

A man runs with a British flag inside a makeshift camp known as the Jungle near Calais, northern France. Photo / AP
A man runs with a British flag inside a makeshift camp known as the Jungle near Calais, northern France. Photo / AP

As French authorities began demolishing parts of the notorious "Jungle" camp today, hundreds of migrants lined up with all of their possessions for transport to asylum centres elsewhere in France.

More than 2500 migrants have left the camp this week, French authorities said.

Defying expectations, France's demolition of the Jungle has largely proceeded in a calm and orderly fashion. There were none of the violent scenes that marked the Government's earlier attempts to close portions of this sprawling camp, where as many as 9000 people - mostly from Afghanistan and Sudan - have lived in squalor for more than a year, an experience riddled by disease and lawlessness.

In the past, most migrants refused to abandon the Jungle because they believed staying would make it easier to enter Britain where many still say they hope to go. Some remain in the camp, but after months of failed attempts to stow away on trucks and ferries heading across the English Channel, many have resigned themselves to staying in France, at least for now.

As a small crew of about 20 construction workers began tearing down makeshift dwellings in this seaside shantytown, those waiting to get out said that they had no idea where they would sleep.

The French Government will send the Jungle migrants to a network of 400 "welcome centres" across the country, where they will be granted a temporary stay to decide whether they wish to claim asylum here or move on elsewhere. Migrants can choose eastern or western France, but their specific destination depends on the day of the week and where the particular buses are headed.

While they waited - most with bags and suitcases they had struggled to close - some of the men in line began to reflect on their experience living in the camp.

Some said that they would remember their time in the camp as terrifying, a dark coda to an already traumatic exile from war-torn home countries. But others said that they would remember it as oasis of kindness in a new world devoid of family and home.

Siddiq Khan, 25, of Afghanistan, said: "I saw everything about life in there and about what life is. And this is not life."

Khan said that early in his 10 months in the Jungle, he, like many others, attempted to jump into a Britain-bound truck in the middle of the night. But on one occasion, he said, French authorities discovered him at one of the checkpoints, throwing tear gas in his eyes and beating him to an extent that required medical attention. He gestured for his friend, Asad, 24, who was with him that night, to show the scar on his forehead. A purple line showed the marks where five stitches had been.

"I'll remember that night for the rest of my life," Khan said.

But Khalid Altayeb, 32, of Sudan, said: "I will remember all the human aid organisations who helped me. They gave me medicine I needed. They helped me with my kidneys - I have some problems with my kidneys."

"This was work for all people," he said.

Soon, all that will be left of this camp and of the tension it created is the concrete wall that separates it from the highway, funded mostly by the British Government to keep migrants out of Calais' port, where the British border begins.

There is also the mural at the camp's entrance by the famous graffiti artist Banksy. "London Calling," it reads, scrawled on a highway underpass. For many, London still calls, if no longer as loudly.

- Washington Post

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