The Guardian has an excellent long read on Calais, France, where thousands of migrants have set up a squalid camp dubbed “The Jungle” in hopes of making it to Britain, which is connected to Calais via the Channel tunnel. The situation in Calais seems to crystalize the cruel immigration policies, global inequality, and tragic desperation that has created the intractable migrant crisis. The piece is by Emmanuel Carrère, and you can read an excerpt below or the full text here.
I procrastinated, circled the Jungle, postponed the moment of going in. In your letter, you speak of it as “that thing constantly gnawing away at all of us here”. I can feel it gnawing away at you, obsessing you, dividing you, and this division is not only between generosity and selfishness, openness and closed-mindedness, the educated classes and the lumpenproletariat who have found someone worse off than they are to hate. It’s also between people who’ve gone into the Jungle, possibly more than once, and those who’ve never set foot there.
I’m not casting aspersions on the latter. If I lived in Calais, I might be one of them, and I have more respect for Marie-Claire from the bookshop, who until now has stayed away for fear of being overwhelmed by emotion and the sense of her own powerlessness, than I do for the many tourists hardened to people’s suffering.
We finally went in together, Marie-Claire and I, with a young woman named Clémentine who knew the encampment well and often escorted visitors. I won’t recount that visit here. I’ve tried; I get tangled up. It takes too long. It can’t be condensed into a few paragraphs. I’d just like to say this much about the Calais residents who, like the valiant Clémentine, head into the encampment in gumboots and a backpack to help, heal, and inform. They say what all volunteers of all nationalities say, words that initially struck me as do-gooding romanticism, but which I actually believe to be true: the Jungle is a nightmare of poverty and disease, terrible things happen there, like rape and revenge, its inhabitants aren’t all peace-loving professionals, diligent students, and virtuous victims of political persecution – far from it. But something extraordinarily inspiring can also be witnessed there: the energy, the appetite for life that has driven these men and women on a long, perilous and heroic journey, on which Calais, despite its appearance as a dead end, is only a staging post.
Image: The Saint-Pierre area of Calais. Via Guardian.