Living In 'The Jungle,' Migrants In France Seek A Permanent Home
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
In northern France, a rough camp site provides shelter to a few thousand people from the Middle East and Africa. These are temporary homes made of camping tents or plastic sheets. People living here have fled war or torture. Many of them hope to cross the English Channel and start a new life in England. This campsite is called The Jungle. It's been described as a place of desperation, but as NPR's Ari Shapiro found out, it's also a place of humanity.
(SOUNDBITE OF HAMMERING)
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The Jungle vibrates with activity. People build and cook, wash clothes and kick soccer balls. Arum (ph) is from Sudan. Like many migrants, he's afraid to give his last name. He's hammering together long planks.
ARUM: This is my new house. Well, actually, it is not mine. It is for my friend. This is an Eritrean guy's. They are new here. They have no home, and I'm helping to set up a new home for these guys.
SHAPIRO: The oldest of the group broke his leg two days ago trying to hop on a train to the U.K. Arum says these Eritreans are all under age.
They're all teenagers.
ARUM: They need a leader.
SHAPIRO: So you're their leader.
ARUM: Yeah (laughter). I'm the leader (laughter).
SHAPIRO: Did you come here alone?
ARUM: I am alone. Yes.
SHAPIRO: When did you come here?
ARUM: Two months ago.
SHAPIRO: And now you understand the ways of the camp, and so to help new people?
ARUM: Yeah. I am experienced.
SHAPIRO: Jungles are famously Darwinian places, and it's true that at the jungle campsite here in Calais, there has been violence. If you leave your shoes out, they may get stolen. But it's impossible to miss the people here with almost nothing caring for those who have even less, like Salman Alikoza (ph). He's from Afghanistan.
How old are the youngest people in this group?
SALMAN ALIKOZA: They're only 16, 17. This guy's 11.
SHAPIRO: And did they come by themselves?
ALIKOZA: Yeah, some of them.
SHAPIRO: When we finished talking, I give Alikoza a couple of teabags and a bar of soap that I brought from my hotel.
ALIKOZA: For you, young boy.
SHAPIRO: For you, young boy, he says, and hands it all to the 11-year-old. On the other side of the campsite, school is in session.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Be careful. (Unintelligible) - always S.
SHAPIRO: Standing outside of the classroom is Zamako Jones (ph) from Nigeria. He lives here in the jungle, and he built this school by himself.
ZAMAKO JONES: I need to build another one. I need to build hospital. I need to think what I can do to help my brothers in The Jungle.
SHAPIRO: Nobody pays him, but he says this is a way to stay busy while he waits for his asylum application to go through.
JONES: Living in France - it'll be two years now. When I was in Nice, I only helped people from street. And I helped some people there. When I came here, I saw them again. I said, oh, you again (laughter). You always helped me before. I say, yeah.
SHAPIRO: International aid groups at this campsite say these men should not have to build their own shelters. Celine Schmitt is with the U.N. High Commission on Refugees.
CELINE SCHMITT: You arrive here in France, and you see people living under plastic sheeting. It is shocking, and we've called that situation as appalling.
SHAPIRO: She says The Jungle does not come close to meeting international standards for refugees. The U.K. says France must do more to solve this problem. France says these people are only in Calais because they want to get to Britain. Right now, both countries seem to believe that if they just make life more difficult for these migrants, the people and the problem will go away. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Calais, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.