Driving past the Calais ‘Jungle’: ‘You get people standing on bridges throwing concrete blocks through cab windows’
PUBLISHED: 11:22 11 October 2016 | UPDATED: 08:53 12 October 2016
There are shops selling drinks, stalls serving food and even mosques, but this is a desperate place.
The Calais ‘Jungle’ is full of frustrated young men who have travelled thousands of miles and are now stopped by 22 miles of water from reaching their goal.
“If I can’t get to England I go back to Sudan,” says Amman, standing on the main path through the migrant camp.
“I want to go to England, but it is very difficult,” adds Nazeer from Afghanistan.
The camp itself is a well-ordered section of tents and shacks but it is no more than a squalid springboard to get to England.
The dangers were evident on Sunday night when a group of migrants tried to stop a British lorry driver. The truck hit and killed one Eritrean migrant.
Calais police are under orders to not get too close to the camp and spend the morning we are there staring at migrants from a distance.
With an estimated 10,000 inhabitants, the ‘Jungle’ has the same population as Downham Market or Diss and would be Norfolk’s ninth biggest town, but its only facilities are portable toilets, a basic washing area and three grotty caravans which serve as medical clinics.
Inside the caravans, English volunteers treat migrants who have coughs and colds and refer more serious cases to a clinic outside the camp.
A young doctor from London who arrived two days ago says she came to help because it is so close to home. “The situation is pretty terrible.”
The doctor, who doesn’t wish to be named, first came out in January and with winter approaching fears the same scenes she saw earlier this year with scabies - a skin condition passed by mites - spreading around the camp.
Signs of how desperate the migrants are to get to England appear on the road in and out of Calais’ ferry port where huge fences stop them running up to lorries.
The fence is being extended but branches and bits of trees mark where migrants have tried to stop vehicles by hurling objects at them.
Lorraine Long, director at Wymondham transport company Richard Long, has around 40 trucks a week going between the UK and the Continent.
“It’s rubbish, it is absolutely rubbish,” she says. “The whole set-up takes hours to get out, takes hours to get back and you’re in danger.
“Unless you’re behind the barriers that the French put up your life is in danger.
“You get people standing on bridges throwing concrete blocks through cab windows, you could get killed.”
“I’ve had drivers leave because they’re not prepared to risk it. It’s got worse this year definitely.”
We’ve travelled to Calais from Thetford with transport driver, Mark Rutterford, who runs East Anglia Swift Transport.
He normally takes the Eurotunnel to avoid coming across trouble on the roads at Calais.
Eurotunnel is now protected by a new perimeter fence, guard dog patrols, lights and cameras, all bought with £7m of British Government money.
On the comfortable ferry to France this all feels distant. But once of the boat, you are immediately on alert.
The ‘Jungle’ is a few hundred metres from the ferry port entrance and can be seen from the main road to the harbour.
There are still plenty of truckers driving the Calais to Dover route but all are taking extra precautions.
Peter Monk, managing director of Pooley Removals at Rendlesham in Suffolk, last drove from Calais a week ago and says migrants are attempting to get onto trucks further and further from the port.
“The latest we had was around a service area near Rouen,” he says, 200 kilometres from Calais.
Mr Monk has also had a shopping trolley pushed in front of his truck on the way into Calais which he managed to avoid.
“You have to be constantly alert,” he says. “The big danger is swerving and braking late. These people are getting very desperate.”
But for most haulage firms, the Dover to Calais route is no longer worth the risk.
Earl Bartlett, from E.E. Bartlett truckers in Great Yarmouth last went six months ago.
He was put off after immigrants climbed into one of his lorries and the company had to pay for the pallets of industrial cling film they were transporting being damaged.
“You get the immigrants when you come back, getting on your lorry, it just isn’t worth it,” he says. “We get e-mails everyday for loads to go into France but we just don’t take them on because it just isn’t viable.”
Truckers can be fined £2,000 per person if they are found with migrants on their lorry.
Security at Calais also can cause long delays for truckers and drivers.
Well-armed French soldiers are the first faces drivers see at the ferry port, followed by a search, then French Customs, a further search and then British sniffer dogs while they queue to get on the ferry.
Jason Pulfer, from R T H Lubbers in Great Yarmouth, says they do not cross into Europe on the Calais route, but said some of their company’s trucks have previously waited for 18 hours to get home.
“We try not to go out there very much right now,” he said. “We look for alternatives really. I think a lot of the other companies are doing the same.”
What now for the Calais camp?
There have been various migrant camps around Calais since 1999, but the current ‘Jungle’ on the main road to the ferry port is the largest so far.
It has grown to around 10,000 people from just 1,000 in 2014.
French authorities have said they will close it by this winter and demolition is expected to start by the end of this month, with the migrants rehoused across France.
That is likely to lead to further violence between French police and the camp’s inhabitants.
The French Government wants Britain to take migrant children who have family ties to the UK as part of the camp’s closure.
The Home Secretary Amber Rudd held talks with French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve yesterday about the migrant crisis and the situation at the English Channel port.
Ahead of the talks, Mr Cazeneuve told RTL radio he wanted the UK to take in “several hundred isolated minors with family in Britain”.
Mrs Rudd said a delay by French officials in identifying children eligible to live in the UK had prevented her department from taking action.
But following Monday’s meeting, a list of the minors is expected to be provided to the government, which could see children transferred to the UK within days.
The British Red Cross said yesterday that unaccompanied refugee children with family in the UK were being left to fend for themselves in the ‘Jungle’ because of bureaucracy.
They estimate there are around 1,000 unaccompanied children in the camp and 178 have family ties to the UK.
The charity’s report found failures while trying to reunite the refugee children.
The British Red Cross said at least three children who had a legal right to join family in the UK had died while trying to make their own way into the country.
In a sign of the continuing difficulties around Calais, an Eritrean migrant was killed and another was injured when they were struck by a British lorry driver, French officials said.
About 50 migrants in the northern French port city tried to slow UK-bound trucks by placing objects on the A16 motorway on Sunday evening.
A British driver trying to dodge the obstacles ended up hitting two Eritreans - a man and a woman - who were taken to hospital. The man later died.
•Additional reporting by Hannah Lawrence
•Do you have a story that needs investigating? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Eastern Daily Press. Click the link in the orange box above for details.