The Last Days of 'The Jungle'

A few panoramic photos documenting the recent evacuation of the refugee camp in Calais.

by Michael Bunel
04 November 2016, 12:53pm

On the 24th of October, 2016, at the behest of French Minister of Local Affairs Bernard Cazeneuve, the refugee camp in Calais was dismantled. The port town of Calais – which is also known among immigrants as 'The Jungle' – is the closest French town to England, and that has made it a hub for migrants hoping to cross over to the West for years. At the time of the most recent evacuation, about 7,000 refugees had been living in the camp. VICE France photographer Michael Bunel was there to document the chaos.

I started working on the European refugee crisis in September 2015, by travelling to the Austrian-Hungarian border to photograph the arrival of the trains carrying refugees who had been rejected by the Hungarian government. The first time I visited "The Jungle" was in October, 2015, and in the year that followed, I've gone back a few times to document the daily lives of refugees in their makeshift camps. Having spent so much time in the place, it only seemed logical to follow the dismantling of the camp as it unfolded last week.

I decided to use a panoramic lens, when I saw the refugees lining up in front of the Orientation Centre – a governmental space, where they are invited to rest and plan the next part of their journey. At the same time, hundreds of policemen and journalists had flooded the scene. It felt voyeuristic to be part of that group, while the refugees saw their tents and belongings go up in smoke. Still, among the chaos, I witnessed a few touching scenes – poignant farewells between volunteers and refugees or Eritrean people praying in front of their makeshift Church before its destruction, for instance.

I talked to some of the refugees to find out their plans for the future. Most of them had no idea where to go next. Some were thinking of trying out the camp in Stalingrad in Paris [editor's note: the French police began evacuating it this morning]. A few others said they would try to make their way into Germany, Belgium and Sweden.

See Michael's work on his website, and more photos below.