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We Visited the Lesser-Known French Migrant Camp That's Next in Line for Evictions

The Dunkirk migrant camp will be the next to be cleared by the French authorities, following dramatic scenes in the "Jungle" camp in Calais this week.

by Sally Hayden
Mar 4 2016, 11:05am

Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News

"This is a little boy, he has everything," Fares Aldhufairy says with envy. He's pointing at a poster of Justin Bieber, looming large on the tent behind him in the muddy depths of the migrant camp in Grande-Synthe, Dunkirk — the next French camp in line for evictions after the demolitions in Calais earlier this week.

"I want life like this man," the 22-year-old continued. "Not [to be] a star, but I want to be safe. I want papers… I don't want all the time [to have] the police behind me." 

Aldhufairy, from Kuwait, is a Bidoon — a stateless Arab denied documents in his birth country. He expected to stay in the Grande-Synthe camp for less than a week, "but today I see I have been here five months," he said. 

Aldhufairy is with his 20-year-old brother and his 55-year-old mother who is sick with anemia, asthma, and rheumatism; they live in muddy conditions with little sanitation and infrastructure. There are around 35 Kuwaitis in the camp, along with Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, Filipinos, and other nationalities. Around 2,500 people in total are staying there, most harboring hopes of eventually managing the crossing to England.

Related: Migrants Sew Their Mouths Shut in Protest at Calais Jungle Demolition

Aldhufairy's father and sister are in the UK — his father fled Kuwait after being briefly imprisoned for taking part in protests, according to Aldhufairy. The family hasn't been together in five years.

"What word can I use to send you a picture about what I want to say?" he said as he attempted to describe the feeling of being separated from his family for so long. "Maybe terrible is enough."

The Dunkirk camp will be the next to be cleared by the French authorities, following dramatic scenes in the "Jungle" camp in the port town of Calais over recent days. Last week a French judge gave authorities the go-ahead to clear another large section on the southern side of Jungle camp. Natacha Bouchart, center-right mayor of Calais, said that the demolitions would happen gradually — however since then tear gas has been fired by police and as shelters burned, Iranian men sewed their lips close and a woman reportedly slit her wrists in protest. 

French authorities have said they're proceeding with the clearance as the current conditions are unsafe, and — while they are distrustful of the changes and fear they will impede their chances of making it to the UK — many migrants and volunteers also speak of the smugglers and criminals that operate within the camp in Calais.

Now around 2,500 migrants and refugees are about to be moved to a new purpose-built camp run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. 

Fares Aldhufairy outside his tent with another 12-year-old Kuwaiti refugee. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

When VICE News visited the Dunkirk camp on Thursday, volunteers were still approaching families to ask whether they had heard about the coming eviction — many hadn't.

Maddie Harris, a volunteer from the Help Refugees charity, told VICE News that the reaction in the Dunkirk camp had been mixed. "Some really want to go, whereas others are suspicious... Everyone is stressed and tense watching [events in Calais] and knowing what's happening next week.

"There's also a feeling of sympathy and solidarity," she said.

Other volunteers told VICE News that they felt more illegal camps would begin to spring up all over France, particularly because the move will be bad for the people smugglers who profit from helping migrants and refugees sneak on trucks and trains destined for the UK.

Aldhufairy said the French police — a continual presence at the camp's entrance when we visited — have gone through the camp taking people's names, but hadn't been forceful or aggressive.

Meanwhile, Europe has been nothing like the pictures and films he had seen before he began his journey, he said.

The migrant camp in Grande Synthe, Dunkirk, which is the next French camp in line for evictions. (Photo by Sally Hayden/VICE News)

"It's very, very hard," he continued. "We want to be free from this situation because if we stay longer some people will die here."

Aldhufairy said he had seen news reports from Calais and was shocked by the force used by police. "I see this will also be happening here with the policemen, and this is very dangerous for us. We would fight with the hand, but the [policemen] would fight with the gun."

"What's going to happen to women and children here and old men? Life is very, very dangerous here... We're waiting for mercy from Queen Elizabeth, from [UK Prime Minister] David Cameron, maybe someone like [opposition leader] Jeremy Corbyn."

Other people are attempting to travel north to Belgium, though last week the country also said it would be reintroducing border checks, with Interior Minister Jan Jambon saying dozens of migrants had been intercepted as they tried to make the crossing.

Related: 'This Is the Jungle: Calais Migrant Camp Now Includes a Church, a School, and a Nightclub

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd

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