On Christmas Eve 2015, one of Tzu Chi USA’s documentary directors travelled to the “Calais Jungle”, an encampment near Calais, France, where migrants live and plan how to illegally enter the United Kingdom just across the English Channel.
These are Nils Aucante’s personal notes from the experience, where he felt as if he were photographing a world of barbaric poetry. Some of what Nils documented is now part of Tzu Chi USA’s documentary “The Resettled”, directed by Alan Thompson.
Bertolt Brecht, a renowned German poet, playwright, and theatre director once wrote:
The “jungle” in Calais couldn’t be a better example of how our societies, over the years, have accorded more value to a piece of paper than to the humans that carry it.
Men are piled up in Calais, trudging through cold mud in the hope of bringing back something to eat to the tents where they sleep at night.
In their hearts, this night is their last one here, but every night has been the last for months, or years now.
Tonight is Christmas Eve, and many will try, yet again, to cross the fences that keep them from the tunnel beneath the English Channel. Others will try to jump on a train, hide under a truck, or sneak onto a boat. They try everything but very few have made it to the other side.
French Military forces are watching the camp, monitoring the fences, sad to be spending their Christmas Eve far from their family in “a place that shouldn’t exist in France”, in the words of one who wouldn’t share his name.
As he finishes his sentence, the young soldier has tears in his eyes.
Then we hear people shouting in a foreign language close to some tents nearby. “Protect your heads!” yells another soldier, as rocks start raining on us and insults are hurled our way.
I make my way back into the camp, where I had already made friends with a few young people from Egypt and Syria.
They invite me to drink tea with them, and begin to share the details of their journey, one without end so far. Their path to France started in Turkey, then led through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium. And now that they are here, they yearn to continue to what seems like heaven in their eyes, England.
I spent two days in the Calais Jungle, talking to men stuck in France who hope to find a better life across the English Channel. What’s next for them? Most don’t know.
I see an old man coming out from the Mosque, and as he ties his shoes, I ask him how he’s doing.