The Hidden Faces of Calais

By Amanda Nero

The residents of the ‘New Jungle’ are exposed daily to the world by the media. Journalists with imposing camera equipment scuttle around trying to capture the life and people of this migrant settlement located 7 kilometres from the port city of Calais, France.

Most of the migrants living in this makeshift camp fear the photographers’ lenses for different reasons. Some dread that their family members and friends might suffer retaliation in their home country if certain people find out their whereabouts; others want to hide from their families their current poor living conditions in the ‘New Jungle.’ Some feel compelled to lie to their relatives, telling them that they are staying at good hotels, for instance.

This short series of photos shares the stories of some of these hidden faces of Calais.

Hahat: Hayat Mahmud (27), wanted to go to England when she left her native Eritrea with her three friends. She declined to be recorded because she thinks that her English is not good enough. Even though it was a warm day in Calais, the slender Eritrean had her white winter jacket on, a bright pink vail covering her head and was clutching a small black backpack which contained all her belongings. She had crossed the Mediterranean like thousands of other migrants and it had taken her 7 days to reach France from Italy. At first, Hayat lived in the “New Jungle” and during that period, she and her friends tried to cross to the United Kingdom several times. Although her friends eventually succeeded, she has not. Without the company of her friends she was afraid to go back to the “New Jungle” alone. After several discussions and phone calls, the NGO Secours Catholique found a family that has taken her in for the time being. She has also given up on going to the UK and has decided to apply for asylum in France. Her name means life in Arabic and she says that all she wants is a life in a country where she is free and can get an education and thrive and hopefully support her family back home.

Halul: Eleven years-old and from Damascus, Halul crossed the Mediterranean with his mother, father and older brother Hassan several months ago. His mother almost drowned during the crossing. Now they live in the Jules Ferry reception centre in Calais, with around 120 women and 30 other children. Halul is terrified of cameras and when he sees one, he mimics the actions and sounds of a gun being fired and mumbles ‘muskila, muskila’, which means problem in Arabic.

Ahmud: Ahmud, a tall and slim Somali with expressive dark eyes, faced the “angry sea” (the Mediterranean) in a boat for three days. He had been living in the “New Jungle” for 2 months when this picture was taken in August 2015. He left his wife and his 2 month-old baby in Sudan, but has plans for them to join him once he is settled. The Sudanese community living in the jungle has built this improvised mosque with pieces of wood and plastic and they are proud have their ‘place of peace and prayer.’

Aval: A Pakistani Pashtun, Aval fled his country because of the Taliban. A very inquisitive and thoughtful man, he has decided to apply for asylum in France. He has been in the “New Jungle” for 6 months and he hangs out at his friend Kalim’s shop. Also from Pakistan, Kalim (30) has been living in the jungle for 7 months. Like Aval, he has also given up on trying to get to England and has since sought asylum in France. Kalim’s shop is a meeting point for several Afghanis and Pakistanis who hang around smoking water pipe and drinking tea. At the shop, the migrants can buy several products including soft drinks, which cost between 50 and 80 cents. At the shop, the migrants can buy several products including soft drinks, of which coincidentally Freeway Coke, which costs 50 cents, is the most popular.

This young Eritrean left his country 2 and half years ago because “people in his country are obliged to do national service for several years without getting paid for it and receiving only a small amount of pocket money.” “They do not treat us like human beings but like animals”, he says with undisguised bitterness. “Have you ever lived like this?,” he asks pointing at his improvised kitchen with a small fire on the sandy floor. “I have been living like this for the last two and half years.”

This young Somali walking along the railway tracks on a single crutch hurt himself trying to jump over a fence to get onto a train that he hoped would finally take him to the UK. He says he wants to study there. He hobbles along back and forth on his crutch to a halfway point between the “New Jungle” and the Eurotunnel entrance. “Only to practice a bit while I am healing,” he says. “It is hard because we do not have much to do here. Do you have any book you could give to me?” he asks.