The makeshift refugee camp in Calais, in the vicinity of the French port and hulking concrete bunkers, was known as the Jungle. According to different estimates, it gave shelter to nine or ten thousand people—most of them huddled in tents or hut-like structures cobbled together using plywood and planks, others living in camping trailers. The camp was surrounded by an earthen bank and the concrete embankment of a nearby highway. The resulting basin was frequently filled with clouds of smoke billowing up from campfires and makeshift kitchens fueled by burning fragments of wooden planks. These pieces of wood were delivered to the Jungle by activists who distributed them among inhabitants of this city of tents and wooden huts (which were also used as storage for stocks of canned food, sugar, pasta, blankets, and shoes). Those found in the Jungle were men—Afghani, Syrian, Pakistani, and others living in their own ethnic “neighborhoods,” differing in their approach to solving conflicts as well as the way they spoke to journalists. Most had a crippling fear of film and photo cameras, and refused to be photographed. All hoped to make their way to the United Kingdom across the English Channel—a passage made nearly impossible by steel fences and walls with barbed wire. Bathed in floodlights and guarded by the French police, those walls and fences separated the refugees from the highway leading to the Channel Tunnel and the tracks on which TGV trains run. Guarded by social workers, women and children were corralled in a camp adjacent to the Jungle, which offered slightly better conditions. Unlike the Jungle, however, journalists were not allowed to move freely in that second camp. In general, the refugees approached visitors like us in a friendly manner, marked at the same time with resignation—they knew they were living in the “last of days,” and that their town would soon meet its demise. One man confessed that he was an Afghan soldier and intended to defend the Jungle against being dismantled. He also said that most of the people in the camp were traumatized by violence, war, the fact that they’d lost families and the perilous journeys across unknown countries and seas to an equally unfamiliar France. And that some were dangerous. He was right; the camp saw acts of violence aimed at inhabitants as well as journalists. Most news crews as well as lone wolves would retreat from the Jungle at dusk. It was then that refugees would pour onto the spacious ground behind the earthen bank and sit perched on the meters-wide slope of the highway embankment. The police would turn on the floodlights then, and call for reinforcements.
Ultimately, after the weekend on a Monday morning toward the end of October 2016, the French administration proceeded to liquidate the Jungle. The refugees were offered the chance to proceed to an assembly point located about a kilometer from the camp, where they were segregated and put on buses that took them to smaller temporary shelters across France. With bags, trolleys, and backpacks, the people from the camp passed under the highway viaduct and into a massive warehouse where they were registered and sent to buses. More and more people from the camp walked to this assembly point over the following days. Some were transported there at night or in the early morning hours. Each day, the police penetrated farther into the Jungle. In a little less than a week, the French authorities displaced the inhabitants of a 9,000-person town, their tents and little houses bulldozed into a pile and hauled away. People left behind their supplies of canned food, sugar, pasta, blankets, and shoes. They left their medicine and clothes. Some abandoned their suitcases and backpacks on the way to the assembly point. Most of their possessions were left behind. Organized groups of inhabitants set fire to the tents and wood huts. The makeshift shelters turned into piles of ash—smoldering leftovers of food, burned-out skeletons of trailers, and shards of gas cylinders. Stomped into the ground and untouched by fire, pairs of shoes were left at entrances to incinerated huts. Some people sought shelter in the vicinity of Calais, while others made their way to Paris where they set up tents, joining the ranks of some three thousand refugees who had long lived on those streets, clustered mostly near the Stalingrad and Jaurès Metro stations. Those people are not homeless; wherever they go, they erect neighborhoods of tents and wood huts, set up makeshift kitchens and dream of their families. They seem somewhat lost about why they’ve found themselves where they are, with no knowledge of French or English. They have no representatives and are confused by the intricacies of refugee processing procedures. Any care they may receive—provided mostly by NGOs and activists—is enough to satisfy only the most basic needs: access to food, water, toilets. And a makeshift shelter. Now these shelters are again being liquidated and some of the refugees are being deported; others are being relocated by the French administration in a bid to disperse them across the country. Journalists accuse the administration of orchestrating the liquidation as part of a populist presidential campaign rather than as an effort to protect the people in the face of the impending winter. The real goal is to hide the refugees rather than help them. These photographs depict the burned-down Calais Jungle as it was liquidated.