Authors: Nasr Chamma and Bence Komlosi
“They left their country for a few weeks, months or years, driven mostly by war, some by poverty, often by the simple desire for a better life.” (ADB, 2016)
The French government is currently planning to close the refugee camp in Calais known as “The Jungle”. As Francois Hollande confirmed last Monday (September 26, 2016), the camp is to be completely and definitively dismantled.
Through this open letter we as Architecture for Refugees urge French architects and French society to protest this decision and get involved in direct action on the ground to block the removal of the camp and instead work on improving it, so the camp can remain open and the needs and desires of refugees are taken into account.
This letter explains and assesses the situation/context in the camp today in order to provide up-to-date factual information and to argue that we should take a positive attitude and a different approach towards The Jungle camp rather than attempting to shut it down. The different perspectives of all stakeholders should be considered so that the French government and French society can actually benefit from the thousands of refugees living there as well as spending less money on security measures. Improving the quality of life within the camp and changing the relationship with the camp residents will ultimately lead to more positive and productive outcomes.
Why is ‘The Jungle’ Worth Saving?
The Jungle is a unique refugee camp, unique on a global level due to the different nationalities, cultures and languages to which it is home. Although densely populated, informal and started spontaneously, the camp today is a home for over 10,000 refugees (Buchanan, 2016) and migrants from 22 different countries (Ulbert, 2016), seeking stability, a better life and a place where they feel that they belong. Many of the inhabitants see a high potential in staying in the camp despite it still lacking fundamental services and failing to provide decent living conditions.
What Have the ‘Security Measures’ Achieved?
The security measures surrounding the camp have not helped the residents to find stability but rather have affected their physical and mental health. This is in addition to the actions of the French authorities including the deconstruction of the southern part of the camp, the removal of an additional 100 meters strip and the closure of the shops and restaurants which are the main source of income for many in the camp. All of these actions have worsened the situation, making residents feel more discriminated against every day; particularly unfortunate given that the majority of them are asylum seekers in the first place, having braved the long trek to Europe in order to escape persecution, discrimination and torture.
How the previous actions of French authorities affected the camp conditions?—A Field Report
Calais Camp “The Jungle” is one of the several informal refugee camps in Western Europe. Located in Calais, France, The Jungle is a stop-off point for thousands of people forced to put on hold their immigration route as they wait for the possibility to travel across to Britain. (ENSA, 2016, p. 7)
In January 2014 around 350 refugees started building small tented camps in different areas in Calais which then attracted more refugees and migrants. In April 2015, these small camps were evacuated by the Prefecture of Calais and all refugee groups had to move to a large new lot located to the east of Calais, today known as “The Jungle” (ADB, 2016). Until June 2015, “The Jungle” was a small and calm informal settlement on the outskirts of Calais, located next to a highway and a ferry terminal. With the big refugee influx which reached Europe in September 2015, the camp grew in size dramatically. In 2014, 280.000 migrants and refugees reached Europe, increasing in 2015 to more than 1.800.000 (BBC, 2016). Thus, the Jungle also started to grow. Today the camp accommodates over 10,000 inhabitants (Buchanan, 2016) from 22 different countries, the majority from Sudan and Afghanistan (Ulbert, 2016).
It becomes difficult to write about the current state of the camp in such a rapidly changing situation. The camp continues to grow with the arrival of further newcomers, around 50 every day (ADB, 2016). Some areas of the camp land were still untouched a few days ago and today look like they were built months ago. The landscape and urban fabric of the camp has changed a lot over the last year (2015), and only the “long-term” residents and volunteers can follow all the changes.
With a common effort between the volunteering groups and the camp residents, around 1,500 shelter units were built in early 2016 using wooden panels and plastic sheets, each unit accommodating 3-4 people. Around 1,000 people still reside in tents, mainly due to it currently being forbidden by the French authorities to bring construction materials on-site or to build any new shelter units. (ADB, 2016)
According to L’Auberge Des Migrants, one of the organizations helping in the camp, since its opening the camp has undergone four fundamental transformations, caused by the actions of the French authorities in regards to space and the urban fabric of the camp;
- December 2015: construction of a new formal container camp within the area of the Jungle in the northern part. This new camp is fenced and can host up to 1,500 residents. It offers refugees accommodation and also has a reception and guidance center where refugees can claim asylum.
- January 2016: Enclosure of 100 meters of land from the western side of the camp to leave an empty zone between the camp and the highway.
- March 2016: the removal of the southern part of the camp, equivalent to 80% of the original area (Fig. 3), which was the most densely populated. This action forced many residents either to move to the container camp or to mobilize/rebuild shelter units and tents in the northern part of the camp.
- July 2016: The closure of many shops and restaurants in the main street of the camp. These shops were/are the heart of the camp and are the main source of income for many residents, as well as providing livelihoods and social interaction between the residents themselves and between the residents, volunteers and visitors.
Furthermore, the camp residents are currently (August 2016) afraid that the rest of the shops are also going to be shut down and that the whole camp is going to be closed in the next few months by the French authorities, as happened previously to the southern part. (Mubarak, 2016)
The Camp Residents and Society
For many refugees and immigrants the camp is only a stop until they can accomplish their main aim of reaching Britain, the final desired destination for many of those in The Jungle seeking a better life. The promise of a better life than the one they had in their home country and better than the one they current have in The Jungle. For others the camp is their temporary home and offers the possibility of survival for themselves and their families after having been forced to flee conflict, war or persecution in the case of refugees. The camp is a place where they want to stay, study, work and enjoy life. For these people, the camp is not just a stop but a place where they enjoy being. Even though the camp situation is unstable and risky, these residents are willing to invest in the camp, develop and improve.
Hachem from Afghanistan, one of the shop owners who had his restaurant shut down by the authorities, mentioned that business in the camp is good and that being in the camp offers good opportunities. He enjoys cooking and selling food for both residents and visitors. Ali, a temporary resident from Pakistan, mentioned on the other hand that he used to have a decent life back home but that he is seeking a better one, for him the camp is only a stop. When interviewing many refugees in the camp (July 2016), the majority expressed their happiness to be in the Jungle. They like being in small communities surrounded by people from a mix of countries including their own, they like working and enjoy studying French and English with volunteers in the camp. However the camp still lacks many of the basic services which the residents need, particularly in regards to health services, both physical and mental support services. Safi is another camp resident originally from Afghanistan. He mentioned that he is a closed person, largely due to mental problems related to post-traumatic disorder. He also mentioned that he is very weak mentally, cannot talk to people much and is in need of healthcare. Safi showed us his shelter and the small community where he lives with 15-16 other people. They have 4-5 shelter units between them. They share an open air community kitchen and built their own shower as well as a small tent for potential guests. Safi speaks English and is now learning French.
The Current Spatial Conditions
The current informal settlement-The Jungle has two main entrances, both controlled by police. Goods are not allowed to enter the camp via these entrances however residents still manage to bring their goods in from other sides of the camp. There are no gates or fences on the western perimeter of the camp other than sand barriers, where the 100 meters’ empty strip is located.
The whole camp area can be divided into four main parts (Fig. 6);
- The southern part, which houses most of the public facilities,
- The northern part, where the shelter units are located including the formal container camp,
- The 100 meter empty strip, on the western side of the camp. This empty space is currently being used for gatherings and sports activities.
- The “Centre Jules Ferry des Migrants” area, adjacent to the northern side of the camp. This center offers daily services to the residents and formal housing for women and children (ADB, 2016)
The Southern Part: Since the removal of the housing/ shelter units, this area mostly functions as a public zone. The residents of the camp have three schools, run by volunteers (École Laique du Chemin des Dunes, Jungle Books library and the École d’Arts et Métiers). There is one orthodox church (Saint Michael) and two mosques. There is also a fourth educational center where residents can practice art therapy. Just next to the church and Jungle Books’ library, there is a huge football field used for diverse sport activities, as well as a paved area for social activities where different buses distribute tea and food and an Info-Bus provides information and free wifi connection. After the removal of tents and shelters from the southern part of the camp, the volunteers planted different local plants (Fig. 7) to cover the whole area, helping the residents and users to heal the loss of their initial residential zones and commercial buildings.
The Northern part: is very diverse functionally and socio-culturally including housing units, the main shopping street (market), safe spaces for women and children including a women’s and children’s center, restaurants and shops, community centers and the formal container camp (Fig. 8), Centre Jules Ferry des Migrants (daily care zone), Darfur School, Oromiya community center and classrooms, community kitchens, mosques, two caravan zones mainly for families, a playground, a cricket area, the blue tent area (Fig. 9) and a new arrivals zone.
The Road Network: There are 3 main streets/ passageways which are used by many residents and volunteers every day. They connect the schools in the southern part with the Centre Jules Ferry des Migrants in the north. Moreover, the main entrance in the central part is an important spot for the residents because it directly connects to the main market street where all the shops and restaurant are located. Only the main roads are paved or graveled and the rest are sand.
Infrastructure Systems: In the camp there is a severe lack of infrastructure networks for public and private use such as electricity, garbage, drainage and sewage systems. There are around 10,000 residents using tens of public latrines, kitchens and wash facilities and the camp is not prepared at all for the huge number of users.
Shelter Typologies: Due to the diverse donations which arrived to Calais, today the camp has a big variety of shelter units with many different typologies (Fig. 8-9). The majority of these units are mobile, made of caravans, wooden panels and pallets, plastic sheets, zinc sheets, camping tents and tree branches. With the temporary status and instability of the camp, many shelter units lack good living conditions and fail to provide an adequate quality of life.
An Open Letter
The policy of destroying areas of the camp has only succeeded in creating fear and tension amongst residents and has negatively affected their relationship with the local community and authorities. Rather than destroying the camp, we would argue that French Authorities should work on improving livelihoods, facilities and infrastructure in the camp. We would encourage the authorities to collaborate and to work hand in hand with the many dynamic, active and engaged stakeholders of the camp, including residents, volunteering individuals and groups such as L’Auberge Des Migrants, Utopia56, Salam etc., local architects and others. By empowering and collaborating with this existing social and human capital the authorities could help to create a positive working vision of cooperation and create a brighter reality for the Jungle and its residents. This vision can include meeting all of the current needs of the camp as well taking into account a long-term perspective and thinking about how this informal chaotic settlement can become resilient and be upgraded step-by-step. The vision must also consider offering a good number of job opportunities to the camp residents, both within the camp and also outside in Calais, so that the French authorities and society can actually benefit from these thousands of workers. And lastly and most importantly, the camp needs to be connected with its surroundings and no longer seen as an island outside of Calais but rather as an opportunity and space for socio-cultural interaction between local society and the camp residents.
With this vision in mind, the Jungle can become a unique home for thousands and instead of spending millions of euros on building barriers, walls and fences, part of this money can be spent on improving the quality of life and living conditions, so that the camp can become a form of urbanization where migrants can live, integrate and work. Investing in the migrant crisis might be a better option than trying to contain or prevent it. We as Architecture for Refugees do urge you to spread the call and to take action to create a better vision, using more effective solutions capable of ensuring a positive reality for refugees and French society.
- Actes&Cités – ENSA Paris Belleville (2016). Vers la Ville Accueillante. Architecture de la Resilience: Fevrier – Juillet 2016 (p. 30-31).
- ADB. (2016, June 27). The Auberge Des Migrants (ADB) since 2014 (Translated). Retrieved August 17, 2016, from L’Auberge-Des-Migrants: http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/lauberge-des-migrants-depuis-2014/
- Ali. (2016, July 17). Interviewing: Ali from Pakistan – One of the camp residents. (N. Chamma, Interviewer)
- Bahaa-Dine. (2016, July 19). Interviewing: Ibrahim from Sudan – One of the camp residents. (I. B.-D.-O. residents, Interviewer)
- BBC. (2016, March 4). Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts. Retrieved August 17, 2016, from BBC NEWS: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911
- Britton, B. (2016, September 26). Calais camp will be completely dismantled, says French president. Retrieved September 30, 2016, from CNN News: http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/26/europe/calais-camp-dismantled-hollande/
- Buchanan, E. (2016, September 19). 10,000 people now live in Calais Jungle migrant camp. Retrieved September 30, 2016, from IBTimes: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/10000-people-now-live-calais-jungle-migrant-camp-1582103
- Hachem. (2016, July 19). Interviewing: Hachem from Afghanistan – One of the camp residents. (N. Chamma, Interviewer)
- Ibrahim. (2016, July 18). Interviewing: Ibrahim from Sudan – One of the camp residents. (N. Chamma, Interviewer)
- Mubarak. (2016, July 17). Interviewing: Mubarak from Sudan – One of the camp residents. (B. Komlosi, Interviewer)
- Safi. (2016, July 21). Interviewing: Safi from Afghanistan – One of the camp residents. (B. Komlosi, Interviewer)
- Sparks, I. (2016, August 14). Calais jungle at ‘breaking point’ as number of migrants passes 9,000 and camp becomes a ‘major health and security risk’. Retrieved August 18, 2016, from Daily Mail: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3740080/Calais-jungle-breaking-point-number-migrants-passes-9-000-camp-major-health-security-risk.html
- Ulbert, K. (2016, July 20). Interview: Founder of Humanitarian OpenStreet Map Team (HOT) and Project Leader of MapFugees at Calais Camp “The Jungle”. (N. Chamma, Interviewer)