At the northern edge of France, in and around the port city of Calais, lie several encampments that provide temporary shelter for approximately six hundred persons, mainly men and teenage boys, who gather in the region in the hope of crossing the Channel. They are Afghan, Pakistani, Syrian and Eritrean among others. In Calais they are only an hour-and-a-half ferry ride away from their final destination: the UK. It’s the last stage of a long and often very perilous journey, but reinforced border controls make the crossing increasingly difficult and migrants are often stuck for months in the squalid camps.
At the northern edge of France, in and around the port city of Calais, lie several encampments that provide a temporary shelter for the hundreds of migrants flocking here. After the demolition in 2002 of the Red Cross centre in Sangatte near Calais, migrant camps were spread out over the region, on the coast and the main road axes for trucks heading to the UK. Approximately six hundred migrants, mainly men and teenage boys, gather in the region in the hope of crossing the Channel. They are Afghan, Pakistani, Syrian, Eritrean and Egyptian among others. All looking for a normal and safe life which they believe will be easier in Britain. Here, they are only an hour-and-a-half ferry ride, away from their final destination: the UK. For the migrants, it’s the last stage of a long and often very perilous journey. Some have been wandering around Europe for years, others have arrived more recently from their often war-torn countries. Most are in their twenties, but there are also many teenagers travelling alone. Mohammed Ali (15) left Eritrea over a year ago, fleeing the harsh dictatorship and the oppression, indefinite military service and slavery that are part of it. “I survived captivity in the Libyan desert and a shipwreck in the Mediterranean” he said “I am not going to give up now, this is the last border to cross. Although every week a steady trickle of migrants makes it across, still many are stuck in the camps for months. They live in squalor, in makeshift tents, cabins and muddy camps, often without access to running water or electricity. Speaking about the harsh living conditions, Ragu (22) from Afghanistan said “Every day we die a little”. Like most migrants he had no idea how miserable the journey would be but he and his friends are confident that eventually they will reach the other side. “We have to go to the UK” they said “we have no choice”. Many of the migrants are heavily indebted to human smugglers. Under threats of the Taliban, Dawran (19) fled Afghanistan, running up a 15 000 dollars debt. “We Afghan boys we want to go to school but the smugglers want their money. I have no choice but to try to go to the UK, where there is a better chance of work, and repay them. There are many young Afghans in the same situation.” But the clandestine crossing is not without danger. Migrants injure themselves regularly falling of trucks, fleeing the police or taking desperate risks; some even die pursuing their dream. In the first 3 months of 2014 as many as 5 persons died almost within sight of their ultimate destination, the UK. Despite the wretched living conditions, failed attempts and fatalities, people keep arriving and making a desperate bid for a new life; waiting and hoping to find a way to cross the Channel. Some succeed but many more are stranded in this corner of France, stuck in limbo.
Marika Dee is a law school graduate. Before taking up photography, she was employed as a jurist specialized in international law. In that capacity she worked for various international organizations. Recently she began work as a documentary photographer.