On the outskirts of Calais, France lies a refugee camp known as The Jungle. The camp is the result of the worst refugee crisis since the end of the Second World War. Some 6000 people live here in tents after fleeing war, persecution and other hardships in their native countries. Most are from the Middle East and Africa and have had to journey across whole continents to reach ‘The Jungle’.
Photographing in The Jungle was really hard. Understandably, few people were prepared to have their photo taken. Many had fled brutal regimes of violence and corruption in their homelands – they shuddered at the prospect of photos getting into the wrong hands.
Refugees in the camp often stage protests about their treatment by the French authorities. This photograph was taken at a day of unity aimed at humanising their plight. The donated truck led people of all nationalities, refugees and supporters alike, through the streets of Calais’ port in a march of unity.
Most of the refugees in Calais end up here as they are seeking to get to the UK. The port is busy with traffic heading over the English Channel by car, ferry or the underwater Eurostar train. These refugees longing for a new start in Britain often try and stowaway on trucks or the train – a daring escapade that often ends in death or injury.
Conditions in the camp are not sanitary to say the least. Here people are forced to live amongst rubbish and stagnant water in leaky tents and makeshift shelters. Luckily however, many charities have banded together to help improve the camp’s resources by introducing clean running water and designated waste disposal areas.
When night falls in the camp it gets incredibly dark as there is no electricity. Candles and torches shine in tents and camp fires burn as refugees huddle together for an evening meal – if they are lucky. I was able to spend one amazing night in the Jungle with some of the kindest people I have ever met.
I’d never experienced hospitality on the level that these Sudanese refugees from Darfur granted us. After cooking us some of their traditional food we all shared stories from our respective homelands, swapped photos of our family and cracked some jokes. The refugees were actually skilled professionals in their homeland – lawyers, civil engineers, shop owners and even university students. However due to brutal ethnic discrimination they were unable to live their lives peacefully in Sudan. They told us abhorrent stories of seeing their family members being slaughtered and raped. Whilst the mood at such times was sombre and bleak, their resilience to keep on going in life, albeit through such horrific experiences, shone through.
They all insisted that we sleep on their comfiest beds and personally welcomed me into their shelter as if I were a long lost friend.
Words and photos by Marko Randelovic