What is the significance of the Calais 'Jungle'?



It's an important day in Calais as refugees and migrants begin to leave the camp ahead of its planned demolition. This is a poignant time to take a look back and consider the history and significance of the Calais "Jungle".

When did the "Jungle" pop up?

This is the most recent manifestation of the Calais "Jungle" (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Calais has lived with migrants for years but the latest manifestation of the "Jungle" that is being dismantled sprang up on the edge of the city in 2015, surrounding a day centre.

It grew rapidly into a demoralising symbol of Europe's migrant crisis.

Despite efforts to cut numbers by dismantling the slum's southern section earlier this year, migrants from countries including Sudan, Syria and Eritrea continued to arrive at the muddy, rat-infested shanty-town.

Why do migrants flock to Calais?

The camp is seen by many as a springboard to a new life (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

For the residents, many of whom have fled poverty, persecution and war in their home countries, the prospect of a new life in Britain is irresistible.

But getting to the UK illegally is dangerous. The death toll among migrants in Calais this year stands at 14. The latest fatality was an Eritrean man killed after being struck by a vehicle driven by a Briton on the A16 motorway.

What has life been like in the camp?

Living conditions in the "Jungle" have been reportedly dire (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Pretty grim. Unicef has reported children being subjected to sexual exploitation, violence and forced labour on a daily basis.

The charity also revealed cases of boys and girls being raped, and young women being subjected to sexual demands in exchange for a promise of passage to Britain.

The dire conditions have led to repeated calls for the British and French governments to speed up the transfer of unaccompanied children out of the camp.

Is there a sense of community in the camp?

Kids cafe
The Kids Cafe (Thibault Camus/AP)

Yes - an underlying sense of community has definitely grown amid the destitution, fostered by charity workers and entrepreneurial migrants.

Kids' Cafe became the epicentre of debate around the camp when it was threatened with closure by French officials. Recognisable by its vibrant paintwork, the makeshift eatery provided free food, asylum advice and language classes for minors - and was spared demolition after a petition was signed by 170,000 people.

Ramshackle places of worship including churches and mosques were also peppered across the vast site while a host of improvised restaurants and convenience shops provide for the needs of others.

What is the French government's stance?

French president Francois Hollande (Alastair Grant/AP)

French president Francois Hollande announced plans to close the camp earlier this year.

As France gears up for next year's presidential election, Hollande has appeared keen to adopt a firmer stance on the camp, which has become a symbol of his government's failure to tackle the migrant crisis and a target of criticism from conservative and far-right rivals.

Stark warnings were issued last week by one of the men hoping to replace Hollande, Alain Juppe, who signalled he wanted to push the border back to the British side of the Channel.

What next?

Migrants line up to register at a processing centre ahead of leaving the camp
Migrants line up to register at a processing centre ahead of leaving the camp (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

The arrival of many lone migrant children has stretched services in Britain, with Kent County Council reporting demand for foster carers reaching crisis point partly because of the new arrivals.

Meanwhile, work continues on a UK-funded £1.9 million wall in Calais aimed at preventing migrants from boarding lorries heading to the ports.

The Jungle closure plan will see migrants being held at one of more than 160 reception centres in regions across France for up to four months while authorities investigate their cases.

Some think that the camp will pop back up if not properly policed (Thibault Camus/AP)

Unaccompanied minors are the only group permitted to stay in Calais, where they will be taken to shipping containers with bunk beds within a secure area of the camp.

Jean-Marc Puissesseau, chief executive of the Port of Calais, warned the dismantling of the Jungle would be a "waste of time" unless a police presence was maintained in the city to stop refugees and migrants who want to travel on to Britain from gathering there.