What it is like for people in Calais hoping to cross the English Channel

Huge rats scurry between piles of rubbish and abandoned tents in the woods behind an industrial estate in Calais.

Less than half a mile from the original Jungle camp, small tents are dotted in between trees, litter carpets the mud and blankets and coats are draped over tree branches.

A solitary one-man tent lies open and abandoned in a corner of the shrub land.

Since the original mass camp was broken up by authorities in 2016, smaller informal settlements have formed.

A tent lies in woodland at the back of an industrial estate (Jemma Crew/PA)
A tent lies in woodland at the back of an industrial estate (Jemma Crew/PA)

It is a precarious existence for the estimated 1,000 people sleeping rough between Calais and Dunkirk, with police carrying out evictions at what charities are calling an “unprecedented rate”.

Another site contains around 50 tents, mainly occupied by Iranians, and some Afghan and African people.

The mood is tense, there are outbreaks of shouting between some of the men and scuffles.

Feelings are running high because early in the morning French police came and dispersed the camp, the group say.

Some left with their things, hid, and returned once the police left.

One Iranian man, who has been in Calais for two months, says people are lucky if they keep their sleeping bag for the next night.

Another man says he once returned to his tent to find it gone, along with his sleeping bag, backpack, phone and money.

Meanwhile, the landscape of the port in northern France shifts every week.

One person told the Press Association: “Now you can’t go in the sea here, all is closed, in the port.

“There are fences everywhere. They close all around, they made walls around the port.

“In the city of Calais and Dunkirk it’s closed.

“Why? We are terrorists? No. We need only help.”

A view of a migrant camp in Calais, France (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A view of a migrant camp in Calais, France (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Standing on the Calais beach on a clear day, the white cliffs of Dover look deceptively close.

Extensive fencing with barbed wire lines the main roads between the ferry port, Eurotunnel entrance and beach.

A petrol station seen as an opportune place to clamber onto refuelling lorries is now almost entirely hidden from view by a large grey wall, erected to keep would-be stowaways out.

CRS French police vans are an almost permanent fixture on the looping network of roads.

Clare Moseley from Care4Calais which supports people in the area, spoke to 48 people trying to reach Britain to apply for asylum in a bid to understand their reasons.

Half of the asylum seekers said they wanted to come to the UK because they had family there, while 15% said it was because they spoke English but no other European languages.

Eight in 10 of the group said they would claim UK asylum in France if that option was available.

She said: “There’s a massive misconception that all refugees want to come to the UK… but I was trying to explain to the home affairs committee (in the UK parliament) it’s a very small proportion that get to Calais … and they do that because of the strength of this family tie.”

She added: “Calais changes all the time because new people arrive … and wherever the worst things are happening, that’s where they arrive from.

“They are fleeing the worst things in the world, you don’t come to Calais because you’ve got a choice.”