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Young residents of Calais remain unsure and afraid as demolition looms

As French authorities prepare to dismantle the camp that is home to up to 8,000 people, children and young adults are anxious about their next moves Standing near muddy puddles and tents buffeted by the wind

As French authorities prepare to dismantle the camp that is home to up to 8,000 people, children and young adults are anxious about their next moves

Standing near muddy puddles and tents buffeted by the wind in the squalid shantytown for refugees and migrants in Calais, Aaron, 16, from Eritrea, was frightened.

He knew that something big was about to begin in the fetid, freezing camp that for five months had served as his home. He had heard that the more than 6,000 refugees and migrants sleeping rough here – many hoping to enter the UK – were about to be rounded up by the French government this week, put onto buses and sent across France. He had heard the camp was going to be bulldozed.

But he was scared of getting on a bus and being sent across France, he wanted to get to England and he didn’t know what to do.

“I just want my mum,” he said. “Can’t someone help me find my mum?”

The fresh-faced teenager, with just the beginnings of facial hair on his upper lip, arrived in Calais in June after a perilous journey fleeing conflict in Eritrea. Last year, his widowed mother decided to flee local violence with her only child, then aged 15. But on a trek through desert with not enough food and water, he became separated from his mother and had not been able to find her. All he knew was that she wanted them to get to England. So he continued on alone to Libya and then to Italy by boat, where he saw “many, many people” drown.

“I have to get to England,” he said. “That’s where my mother was going and it’s my only hope of finding her. At night I have such bad nightmares. I just want to find my mum.”

He had no other family in England and had spent time in the camp improving his English and doing art projects with volunteers. “I’ve heard the schools are good in England. I speak English, I want to go to school, I want to learn.”

With other teenagers, he had been trying at night to jump on the backs of lorries and stow away, but the French police always pulled him out, “hitting me or teargassing me”.

The operation to raze the notorious Calais refugee and migrant camp to the ground begins on Monday and will last at least a week. French authorities first want the UK to take as many as possible of the more than 1,000 lone children living in dangerous conditions in the camp. Then a total of between 6,000 and 8,000 refugees and migrants in the camp will be gradually ushered to a vast hangar nearby. They will be given the choice of two different regions in France, then they will be placed into four separate queues – adults, unaccompanied minors, families and vulnerable people – to wait for the coaches that will drive them to processing accommodation centres across towns and villages in France.

But the demolition of the sprawling Calais camp – which sprang up last year after police deliberately moved people from squats across Calais onto one piece of wasteland – is unlikely to permanently resolve the 20-year-old problem of migrants stranded in France trying to reach Britain. Local French aid groups said they believed hundreds of people had already left the camp and could be sleeping rough across the north coast.

Aid workers said squats would spring up elsewhere in Calais as some migrants still tried to reach the UK. Elsewhere in France, although many volunteer groups have helped refugees, the right and far-right have championed a “not in my village” movement in recent weeks to protest against migrants and refugees from Calais being housed in small centres in towns dotted around the country. In two places, shots were fired from hunting rifles at the windows of the centres preparing to open.

“I’ll be happy to take the bus out of here,” said Bache Afghan, 22, an aspiring medical student who had been living in the Calais camp for six weeks, after fleeing violence in Afghanistan. He wanted to study to be a doctor and had applied for asylum in France. “Anywhere in France is safer than what I’ve fled in Afghanistan, and it can’t be worse than this camp,” he said.

He had been sleeping in two sleeping bags against the cold, often soaked with rain and sometimes woken by teargas in his tent from police trying to stop potential stowaways running out onto the motorway nearby.

He could not believe he might be given a bed in a French processing accommodation centre. “It would be the first time I’ve slept in a bed for more than a year.…”

With bare feet poking out of broken shoes that were too small, he had no possessions to pack and no bag. “A charity worker said she might be able to give me a bag – I’ll just put my asylum papers in it. I don’t possess anything else, not even a pair of socks.”

Imran, 19, also from Afghanistan, had a cousin who worked in a supermaket in Birmingham. “I always wanted to get to England to join him. Every night I try to get on a truck, but it’s almost impossible. I might stay around Calais to keep trying, or I might give up and stay in France, I just don’t know what to do.”

Walking through the camp, a 20-year-old single woman from Ethiopia, who had family in London, said she would stay around Calais: “All I want is to get to England. I’m not scared any more. I can’t go home. I have seen so many frightening things, people die, that I’ll just keep going, unafraid.”

Some names have been changed

The Guardian

Review overview
  • Z. Hagos October 23, 2016

    What an unfair two-faced world Isayas has created – with one Eritrean on fire and the other Eritrean dancing to the tunes of false Isayas’s greatness. The world is sympathizing with the Eritreans on fire and condemning those who are feasting and celebrating the power they have gained by bowing to the cruel, criminal and abusive tyrant.
    The Eritrean refugee narrative on issues of the underage children wandering without caregivers confirms the COIE’s call for each and every Eritrean criminal to stand a trial at ICC courts as soon as possible to end the sufferings of the Eritrean children. The COIE’s call reminds the criminals that they are disgrace to humanity. Eritreans should condemn all kinds of atrocities committed against the innocent people in Eritrea. The criminals in Eritrea have ugly distinction and are known for their crimes of sucking blood; sucking others wealth and feeding on their own people’s flesh.

    • k.tewolde October 24, 2016

      Indeed Hagos,HGDEF is a true parasite who is imbibed with blood of his own people and toasts victory parties while the very innocent children he raised are eloping before they reach puberty.The average prudent observer is watching this little nation with shock and awe.

      • Kesete October 24, 2016

        Indeed,K.Tewolde, your big and show off words are not going to impress or fool the genuine Eritreans. You remain as a criminal barbaric Islam ELF fanatic and propagandist until you are brought to Eritrean courts for your hanging sentence for your evil crimes against humanity. So, don’t get too smart as your days are numbered.
        The true parasites in Eritrea in every sense of the word are the rootless illegal immigrants of the lowland moslem mercenaries who are working day and night to destabilize the beautiful Christian Habesha countries of Eritrea & Ethiopia.
        Parasites like these rootless evil savage moslems conquer a host, eventually killing the host and dying themselves in the process. Every country the savage evil muslimArabs they conquered had been sucked dry of its culture, language, identity and tradition and then turned into a zombie terrorist land.

    • Kesete October 24, 2016

      Z.Hagos, you are only big cheap talk, apart from your usual ajewjews and big writings what else or what actually are you doing to alleviate all the suffering Eritreans go through on a daily basis? I bet you’ve been going to Higdef’s guayilas non-stop and also you’ve been paying the 2% contributions and renewing your Eritrean ID. Rather than just cheap talks and writings just show us your contributions to the suffering people of Eritrea. It is you and your likes the opportunist so called oppositions that are prolonging Eritrea’s problems and suffering.

      • Negasi October 26, 2016

        wait a minuet kesete, if you think Higdef is right and doing the right thing for Eritrea, why are you living as Diaspora? why do not you prove your words with deeds,-pack your belongings and live in Higdef’s Eritrea? The people who lived under the whip of Higdef for the last 22-years or so are saying “enough is enough!” so why did you twist things to a Moslem christian agenda?

  • BETWEDED October 24, 2016

    REST IN PEACE kesete