After The Calais Jungle
Reportage produced in December 2016, two months after the final evacuation.
A few tooth-brushes, shoes, books remaining in the polluted dirt. The containers are still there which were built only a year ago to keep 1500 migrants warm. Hard to believe up to 6000 migrants lived in this so called Jungle between hope and despair. The strong smell of chemicals from old factories is accentuated without being covered by the sent of wood fire many used to make to keep warm. Brown stains in the dirt shows how they all lived in toxic waste. Yet, these horrible conditions brought people together in the hope for a better life. Hope for a life liberated from borders, wars & corrupted politics which affects the life of many innocent people. After the evacuation of the Jungle during the last week of November this past year, most were dispatched all over France while waiting for their asylum request to be processed. Barely any sings of migrants remain in the center of the northern French city, besides the 60 graves that are permanently placed in the north cemetery. For those migrants who lost their lives while trying to reach England, without any documents required, they are now forever part of the French asylum ground. For the ones who managed to cross over illegally before the final evacuation, how is their integration & living situation today?
After a 15 minute walk from the local bus station where Ahmed and Mohamed picked me up, we arrive towards their current accommodation. A typical street of England, brick houses tightly together. From the outside all homes looks quite comfortable. As Mohamed opens the front door and says “Welcome”, a narrow hallway emerges. Continuing our entrance, we step into the living room, two cream worn out leather sofas, a black TV box is placed on the corner and old brown carpeting is covering the house floor. The kitchen with neon lights feels just as cold and damp as the bathroom. “Sit, sit, sorry we ran out of heating today, this happens once a month, we have to call the owner to fix it”, says Mohamed, as him and Ahmed are kindly fixing me a cup of sweet Arabic tea.
As we all gather around the living room table to take a first sip of tea, Mohamed starts to share his experience being smuggled to England from Calais. “If the police catches you inside the lorry before the ferry lands on UK ground, they will send you back to Calais. If they catch you when the ferry is on UK ground, you get to stay and apply for asylum.” The young man from Eritrea made it to England back in May 2016 and recently received approval for his stay in the U.K. Shortly after his arrival, Mohamed met 22 years old Ahmed from Kuwait who arrived one day later than him. They were first sent to London’s home office to register, then sent to Cardiff, Wales for a month after finally being placed in the same home in this small town outside London called Swindon. “Ahmed paid 1500 euros to get smuggled, I only paid 500 euros because the smugglers were from the same country as I am from. That was all our savings left , we have now been here in England for six months.” The two young migrants are currently sharing this three bedroom flat with other migrants & political refugees from Eritrea, Sudan & Dubai. Living on a weekly support of 37 pounds a week.
Mohamed & Ahmed both lived in the Calais jungle camp for 8 months while trying to reach the U.K ground every single day. Ahmed has a disappointed look on his face, as if England was not what he had expected, “He just received a negative for his stay” explains Mohamed with the english he has been learning for the past months. “I told him not to worry too much, it’s always like this with the first decision but you have to appeal with the lawyer you were given”. Ahmed’s is a Bidoon, a stateless ethnic group who did not receive citizenship after Kuwait’s independence in 1961, resulting in being discriminated against & persecuted. Having no right to study or work, his basic rights as a citizen of Kuwait are non existent, therefore making the decision to reach England for a potential future. Ahmed’s refusal letter stated “You have claimed that on return to Kuwait, you would have no rights do to your Bidoon status. Your alleged fear on return is based on threats and persecution from state actor agent and you have not demonstrated they will be able to have any influence over the state. As the background country set out above demonstrates, avenues of redress are available to you and you should have utilised them before seeking international protection. Based on the background country cited above it is believed the authorities in Kuwait are able to provide you with protection.”
This discrimination is harder to prove than Mohamed’s case who was in-prisoned for eight months. The young Eritrean man was tortured by his own government for wanting to gather people and demonstrate against its dictatorship. “ To qualify for asylum, an individual not only needs to have fear of persecution for a convention reason, they must also be able to demonstrate that their fear of persecution is well founded and that they are unable, or unwilling because of their fear, to avail themselves of the protection of their home country, ” Ahmed’s letter further explains. “ The problem is that Ahmed does not speak English and the translator he was given does not speak the same dialect and he is unable to check if every detail is being repeated correctly”, says Mohamed for Ahmed. According to Ahmed it is impossible to ask protection from the Kuwait government as it is corrupted and they are the source of discrimination against the Bidoon’s. “ Some governments, just like in Dubai, will pretend in the eyes of Europe that the asylum seeker can be sent back home in safety and receive protection. In fact that is a lie most times, once you get deported back home, it is most likely they will take you to prison and in worse case torture you for talking against them”, shares their new roommate Azi originally from Palestine. Azi recently was thrown out of Dubai for doing charity work with organisation to help Syrian refugees. According to the Dubai government this organisation was suspected to have affiliation with terrorists in Syria, “this was just an excuse to kick me out, they do not want people to do any human right work as the government is corrupted.”
It is not always easy to prove the asylum right, as each situation can be difficult to explain. Although, Ahmed has a delegated lawyer to advise him about his case, he had to pay 43 pounds for a three hour journey to Birmingham from Swindon to meet with him. These kind of travel expenses used to be covered by the home office in London but this coverage was recently removed from the budget, leaving Ahmed and others having to pay for these extra costs on the monthly income of 148 pounds. For the ones who were granted asylum, other challenges for full integration emerges, such as finding work and primarily a new home within 22 days of the positive response. This is the case for Mohamed, “I have to find a new home within two weeks now, the home office can probably provide me with another home until I find work.” Although, recently due to backed up bureaucracy from the home office, some were not able to be provided a new home within 22 days of these grace period, leaving many homeless. Others who have been granted asylum months back are well on their way. This is the case for Mahmoud, a 27 years old, Sudani man who works at night in a restaurant from midnight to 6 in the morning and goes to the university during the day from 12:00 to 16:00. Mahmoud takes a rest from 16h00 to 23H00 on the bedroom floor of Ahmed & Mohamed, things are even looking brighter for Mahmoud who recently received an interview to work in the Amazon warehouse.
“I am happy and thankful everyday”, further shares Mohamed. “For us coming from countries where we lived such discrimination, we have to look back and remind ourselves where we come from. It makes us happier and able to remind ourselves what our goals are, getting integrated and to live a normal life. To look at the state of the house we were given may be shocking to you but I am very thankful for what Europe has given us, a house and financial support to eat. The rest of it is our work to do, learn the language, find work and talk to people to get help to be able to become fully integrated.”