The dramatic story of one SOAS student’s time in Calais
An empty field and rows and rows of men. When I entered the Jungle, that was the first thing I saw.
It was the start of a trip with SOAS goes to Calais, and we had just entered the Calais Refugee Camp which, according to the BBC, held around 7,000 inhabitants in 2016. The group had many musical instruments and swiftly assembled nearby the Jungle library (dubbed ‘Jungle Books’) and began to play, inviting inhabitants of the camp to play along. We talked to some of the refugees, and two that I had met wanted to show me their tents. The two young Afghan boys showed me their accommodation, which was the inside of a crate that had been decorated on the inside and covered with colourful scarves to make it feel homely. The room was lit with a candle and we began to talk as they told me their stories and played music out loud. I could still hear the lively tunes of the people playing, so I felt okay. After a while, I told the boys that I had to go and check on the group. As I went outside, I saw that the group was gone, and I was alone.
‘As the water sprayed us, we realised that the combination of tear gas and water culminated in the sensation of intense burning on our skin’
I looked and couldn’t see anyone, someone in the library informed me that the group had moved deeper into the camp. Since I had never been inside a refugee camp, I panicked. However, the boys I had met told me to stay and wait with them, as they were sure the group would come back. Since I wasn’t sure what to do or where to go, we sat in the tent, playing Bollywood songs and discussing our lives. Finding out how the camp worked was interesting, and we talked for a long time. As it got darker and darker, we realised the group wasn’t coming back. One of the boys took me to an Afghan café, where we got served delicious food. After this, I wondered how I could get home, so the boys decided to walk with me. We walked for an hour and a half over the train tracks in Calais, as it was the quickest way home, and as the darkness enveloped us it felt quite scary.
The next day, I went back after volunteering at the warehouse to thank them, but the camp had taken a turn for the worse. After some attempted escapes onto lorries by some of the refugees, the camp was locked down by the French authorities. This meant that people could not enter or exit The Jungle. As I walked to the school and down to Jungle Books, tear gas filled the air, and all I could hear was shouting from various people. I managed to find the boys I had met and we ran, trying to find shelter inside the schools. The police had also hired fire engines that were spraying water down onto the refugees. As the water sprayed us, we realised that the combination of tear gas and water culminated in the sensation of intense burning on our skin. Turning around, we suddenly saw two of the Eritrean people that lived in the camp trying to get on to a lorry, with the French police chasing behind them at full speed. After running into a school, I was suddenly advised to try to get out to safety, as the police would be getting even harsher. As I tried to leave, the police wouldn’t let me exit, calling me a disgusting immigrant and cussing me. I told them where I was from and they wouldn’t believe me, insisting that I was an illegal immigrant. It stayed like this until someone I had met inside the volunteering warehouse managed to get me out. I was free.
My trip to Calais, though dramatic, was incredibly interesting.