The displacement of 6,000 refugees.
It was over a year ago when I first visited ‘The Jungle’ in Calais, where about 2000 Iranian refugees were living, and being Iranian myself I felt very personally about any issues regarding the Iranian community there. I spent three days with four Iranian men, chatting, laughing and trying to get an insight into what they were experiencing as best as I could.
I visited again about 2 months ago and saw how much more it had developed; structures were far more permanent, and people seemed set in the idea they were going to be spending a long time living there, but the camp was supposedly being dismantled on orders from the French government that week.
Skip forward to last Monday evening where I was sitting in the Basement HQ when someone brought up the fact they were demolishing the camp the next day. The decision was already made for me to travel to Calais the next morning to document the demolition of the camp when I heard the news. But what happened next was something nobody expected.
It started just as the police were clearing people from the camp ready for demolition: a restaurant caught fire nearby to the contained living facility, and then soon after another just 100m away was alight… More and more police came, chasing the blazes, whilst more and more fires popped up all over the camp. Most people were gathering up their belongings and running out as fast as they could but some were just sitting there laughing as if the whole place wasn’t burning down around them.
After about three hours of darting around the burning camp to capture what was happening, most people had left, but the riot police (CRS) then created a human wall and walked towards the exit forcing the remaining people out. A lot of refugees where tying to regain access to the camp to collect forgotten belongings but they were being stopped by the CRS despite knowing certain areas hadn’t been affected by fire (about 30% of the camp was left in tact at this time).
The next day I returned and snuck back into the camp via the motor way as the police were blocking all other entrances. It was shocking to see that now all of the camp had been bull dozed apart from a small number of structures, one being the Eritrean church, which we were allowed into by the people protecting it from demolition. In one corner there was a young boy crying his heart out while reading the bible praying. There was a strange sadness in the church; the people had stopped fighting and they knew it was going to go, but they did want to fight, people were just trying to spend the last few hours they had in the destroyed camp before they were thrown out or arrested for just being there, praying and being with each other before being sent elsewhere else in France on a bus. It was one of the most human things I’ve ever seen.
Most people think that’s it for the camp now, but these guys had travelled across the world and risked their lives in search of better ones for themselves and their families. I can promise you this isn’t the end of Calais as a place for refugees, but it’s just very convenient isn’t it? England refuses 3000 refugee children stranded on the continent, ‘The Jungle’ is destroyed… All of these people in need are being swept under the rug once again, while we bomb these countries and kill their families, forcing them out of their homes and then when they are finally close to reaching safety, we destroy all hope of that. The refugee crisis is ongoing and as present as ever, please don’t forget it.
It’s incredible to think that refugees we, as part of a collective, have displaced due to conflicts we have caused or fuelled, can’t seek asylum in our country. What’s 3,000 children to the 64 million people in the UK? Surely we have some sort of responsibility to those we have indirectly caused anguish and pain to. I for one, am sick and tired of the attitude of our government towards the Calais migrant crisis. I hope these images remind people that these migrants are just like you and I; human.
Words and photography by Aria Shahrokhshahi
Edited by Daniel Hawksworth