Calais refugee camp tents 1
Refugees at 'The Jungle': Terrorists forbidden here
02:04 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Migrants are fearful of being treated with more suspicion after the Paris attacks

There are 6000 migrants living in the "Jungle" refugee camp in Calais

Refugees live in squalid conditions and petty crime is rife

Calais, France CNN  — 

The migrant crisis has dominated debate in Europe, with the public mood fluctuating between compassion – when bodies of children washed up on holiday beaches – and fear that the new arrivals are a threat to the European way of life.

But after revelations that one of the Paris attackers may have entered France among refugees from Syria, many observers believe that suspicion and hatred of migrants will spiral.

So how do the 5,000 to 6,000 migrants who gather at one of Europe’s most famous refugee camps, the so-called “Jungle” near Calais, northern France, feel about attitudes towards them after the attacks nearly 200 miles away?

In the Jungle camp terrorists are "forbidden".

A newly erected, hand-drawn sign near the entrance to the site perhaps expresses the sentiment best. Terrorists, it warns in broken English, are forbidden to enter.

The message is as much one to the outside world as it is to those arriving at the Jungle, which serves as a staging ground for migrants trying to enter the UK illegally – either by stowing away on a truck or a Channel Tunnel train. Such journeys are perilous: at least 14 people have been killed this year alone.

The camp itself is reached by a quiet country road that also heads to the nearby beach. It could be most places in France, except for the presence of several police vehicles and 10-feet high wire fences which surround nearby properties. The CNN team is questioned by a bored-looking gendarme, but then allowed to enter.

The “Jungle” – effectively a massive sprawling camp-site on waste ground – lies among the sand-dunes about 500 yards from the shore. A muddy track criss-crosses the camp, with thousands of tents and wooden shacks lining the route. A stench reminiscent of blocked drains lingers in the air. The driving rain shreds our umbrella.

Alexandra Limousin, an enthusiastic aid worker for the charity L’Auberge Migrants, acts as our guide, pointing out the various amenities that volunteers help to provide: water standpipes, soup kitchens, a church, a mosque, a basic medical center, even an art center.

She introduces us to several migrants who describe their fears in the wake of the attacks. They believe people will suspect them of being a terrorist – despite the fact that many of them have fled the same Islamist ideology that sparked the carnage in Paris.

One young man tells us that migrants are making fewer attempts to reach England because they think security forces guarding the entrance to the Channel Tunnel are more trigger-happy than they were.

“We daren’t go out now to escape because we don’t know how the police will react,” says one, who gave his name only as Baraa, from Hama in Syria.

Most of the people milling around are young men from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Iraq, Sudan. They are outwardly friendly and there is no evident hostility, either to us or each other. But they live in desperate conditions: there are few washing facilities, most say they are hungry and petty crime is said to be rife.

For the time being then, some say they are staying put, trying to make the best of a bad situation. Baraa and his friend Khaled share a small tent which is cosy but cramped. An extra tarpaulin draped over the tent keeps them dry but the noise of the wind howls inside. A tent suitable for a camping holiday is no fun when it’s your home.

Construction seems to be going on everywhere: new arrivals to the camp are erecting shelters, ranging from bivouacs to more permanent structures with wooden frames and panels. All look unlikely to survive a fierce storm, though. We see several queues for handouts of food such as melons and apples, from mainly English volunteers.

The tracks that were muddy when we arrived in the morning are now turning into lakes. People hop across as best they can. Few wear boots or waterproofs; many only have on sandals and thin clothes.

Local deputy mayor, Philippe Mignonet, maintains that there is little racism in Calais towards the migrants. But the Jungle is a world away from the relatively affluent-looking houses near the camp. The high fences indicate there is little interaction between the two communities and several migrants tell of abuse and violence towards them.

On a nearby highway, trucks and cars roar past the camp, their occupants oblivious to the thousands of migrants facing a cold, wet winter under canvas.

Mostafa, another Syrian young man, admits that despite his hunger and thirst he daren’t approach locals in case they react violently to him. “I go to this house, maybe it’s good, this person and (they) take me water. But this person… worry,” he adds. “Can he kill me?” he asks.

He is but one face of the crisis. Europe has taken in more than 744,000 refugees this year. The shows no sign of abating, with more people fleeing to the continent in October last month than during all of last year.

Germany has been by far the most open country to migrants, saying it might accept 1 million migrants by the end of 2015, far-right protesters have abused new refugees, throwing bottles at their buses. Dozens of empty, waiting shelters have been torched by arsonists.

Back in the “Jungle,” we prepare to leave this desperate place for the outside world. We can travel to England, the migrants cannot – but they find safety in this refuge, however bad it is.

The people here know they have dangerous journeys ahead. But they also realize that while the sign at the gate may reflect the truth, that terrorists are unwelcome, their situation just became a whole lot more complicated.