12 Nov 2015

Toxic white asbestos found in Calais ‘Jungle’ camp


Picture: Steve Summers

It is one of those experiences. Once you know what you’re looking for, you see it everywhere – because it is everywhere.

White asbestos.

Sometimes it is small. Fragments perhaps the size of a coin, right through to broken sheets of the stuff used for building the shacks the migrants and refugees live in, in Calais’ so-called Jungle camp.

One group of young Sudanese men invite us into their temporary “home” and point out at once that it is almost impossible to avoid treading in asbestos fragments just trying to leave their front door to go out.

So goes The Jungle – and particularly the areas known as Sudan where tents and shacks stud the sand dunes of the coastline. Wrecked tents, like missing teeth here, identify where people upped, left and never came back because they got to the UK somehow – or they were killed trying.


Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson run the Good Chance Theatre here for those who pass through here or stay longer, trying in the main, to get into Britain.

They came across the asbestos and once found in one place, they quickly realised it is all over the camp.

“We didn’t know what it was until it was pointed out to us but it is everywhere and nobody seems quite sure how it got here,” said Joe.

The theory here is that the migrants are now living on what was landfill where white asbestos sheeting used for roofing was dumped some time ago.

Whatever the reason, it is as much a part of camp life now as the mud of oncoming winter and the sand of the dunes here.


Picture: Steve Summers

The police – mostly riot squads of the CRS who ring the place, simply shrugged when informed about the asbestos by the British playwrights Joe and Joe.

Channel 4 News took samples back to the UK to be examined by a lab in Whitley Bay, which quickly established them as white asbestos.

Intact, in the sheets in which it leaves the factory, it is not particularly hazardous. Once broken up though, its dangerous fibres are easily released and once inhaled into human lungs, can be highly carcinogenic.

The welcome this morning in The Jungle was mostly cordial. But to all around the atmospherics are darkening with police clashes on successive nights as people here try to reach the Channel Tunnel trains about eight miles away.

Life is tough enough in The Jungle, a shocking, stinking rat-infested stain on the European landscape – literally and politically. These people – migrants or refugees – hardly need the added hazard of living in sand, mud and soil littered everywhere with shreds of white asbestos sheeting.

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