Humans of Calais Jungle

National Headquarters  |  June 14, 2016
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.

I'm from Sudan, I just arrived a few days ago - they say it's cold here and they are right." 'Do you know who is that man on the wall?" "Him? A white refugee?

Barbaric Poetry

Bertolt Brecht, a renowned German poet, playwright, and theatre director once wrote:

The passport is the most noble part of the human being. It also does not come into existence in such a simple fashion as a human being does. A human being can come into the world anywhere, in the most careless way and for no good reason, but a passport never can. When it is good, the passport is also recognized for this quality, whereas a human being, no matter how good, can go unrecognized.

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.

I'm 17 and I come from Syria, the war killed my family, I came here and I have friends, I cook for them sometimes with what we find, it's nice.

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.

We are in France, we aren’t supposed to see places like this here. These people deserve some dignity, we all do. No one should have to live like that. Every day they come out of the camp and they face us, they throw rocks at us, burn our cars. But I can’t feel anger, I understand them, they’ve lost everything they had. It’s tough to be here.

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.

Yesterday I tried to jump the fence and I hurt my hands with the barbels... but I'll try again today, it's Christmas time, I think the police will go home with their families, so I have more chances to make it... God's willing.

They are building the new city for us, with the containers - Hopefully I'll be gone before they finish.

Here you make friends and then we try to cross the fence and jump in a truck together, we try to stick together so it's easier, and we eat together even if we aren't from the same country, I'm from Egypt, he is from Syria, this one is from Iraq, but we all go to the U.K.

I'm from Iraq, at least we have water here, on our way here, sometimes there was no water, for days, it was difficult to survive... But here we have water, it's easier. In England, I have family so when I get there I will be able to drink something else than water.

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.

I’m doing like the bar of soap I don’t even have to clean myself, he says, shrinking, always shrinking, like a bar soap.

Welcome to the Calais Jungle.

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