Despair of 'The Jungle'
"The Jungle" was a harsh, dangerous encampment from which migrants made their daily attempts to board a truck or train to England.
I visited the shanties of wood and plastic a few weeks ago. Lying a short distance outside Calais, a major European town, the makeshift tents were regarded by many as a long-running scandal.
Mid-afternoon and dozens of mainly Afgan migrants would emerge from the trees to seek medical attention. It was not provided on any official basis but by volunteers, who offered plasters and medicines from the back of a vehicle.
Many of the migrants had scabies from living in the woods. Others needed treatment for cuts and bruises from having tried to clamber aboard the trucks and trains heading north. Others still had been hurt in knife fights. The Jungle could be vicious. Age-old disputes had been carried across continents and grudges could be settled outside Calais with a knife.
Only recently did they have access to a stand-pipe. Each day they trekked across railway tracks to a warehouse near the waterfront to be handed out food.
Among the migrants were young men, some clearly under the age of 16; child-travellers vulnerable to bullying and sexual abuse. Some of their families had saved money to send these teenagers across time-zones seemingly unaware of the risks. Some charity workers were incensed at the failure to provide shelter to these young migrants.
Often there was hostility to the media, particularly television. I did not find this so much with the migrants themselves. They were curious to know about Britain. They were surprised to find I had sometimes visited their home towns like Kandahar or Ghazni. Many were full of hope but suddenly they would break off a conversation. They had seen someone, usually a gang leader or trafficker who feared the presence of reporters.
I often asked them why they wanted to come to Britain. Many regarded the UK as Eldorado. Indeed some relief agencies had tried disabusing them of the British dream. It made no difference. For a key reason for heading to England was that there were established communities already there: Afghans, Somalis, Kurds etc. And that is where they would find work, in the black economy, amongst people who spoke their language and knew their traditions.
Many needed the money to pay off the traffickers who had helped them make the journey. If they failed to find the funds their families back home could be threatened.
And lastly they believed that if they reached the UK they would never be sent home. Most knew, in great detail, how the lawyers could stretch out appeals over years. The French authorities felt the British did not do enough to deter migrants making the journeys.
The tearing down of the Jungle was much advertised and many of the migrants will lie low only to re-emerge later. This latest action can only be a gesture. The EU policy of people claiming asylum at the point of entry into the EU is not working and remains a huge challenge to European countries.