30 Jul 2015

Calais migrant camps: seventeen years of shanty towns

The migrant camp near Calais known as the Jungle is causing controversy. But it’s not the first. Channel 4 News looks back at seventeen years of political impotence and refugee despair.

The migrant camp in Calais has been branded out of control and lawless as politicians on both sides of the Channel clamour for the growing crisis to be brought under control.

But twelve years ago a controlled and organised camp for Calais migrants, run by the Red Cross, was closed down.

Sangatte was designed to hold 900 refugees who had travelled to the area in the hope of making a crossing to Britain.

The camp opened in 1997. In the three years since the Channel Tunnel had opened to passengers refugees had also seen its potential as a gateway to the revered green and pleasant land of the UK.

Sangatte: the first and only official camp for refugees

Prompted by growing press attention a warehouse once used for the construction of the tunnel was converted into a holding centre by the Red Cross.

The Sangatte camp was set up in an old warehouse, intially used to build the tunnel, by the Red Cross

The size of Heathrow airport it was located about 1.2 miles from Eurotunnel’s terminal near Calais and 3.1 miles from Calais port.

Back then the refugees were 90 per cent Iraqi Kurds or Tadjiks and Pashtuns from Afghanistan.

The nearby village of Sangatte, with a population of 800, was smaller than the growing camp. Twice in the early noughties riots broke out with groups of migrants storming the fences and tried to enter the tunnel en masse.

Then, as now, authorities on both sides of the Channel were up in arms, demanding its closure, saying it was a magnet attracting more migrants to Calais.

Numbers swelled to 2,000 – but that is still less than the estimated number living in ramshackle shelters and tents around the Eurotunnel terminal today.

By 2002 numbers has swelled to 2,000 migrants and the French government decided to destroy the camp

In 2002, three years after it opened Sangatte closed after the UK agreed to take some of its refugees. Five million pound security gates were erected and illegal immigrants detected entering Kent from Calais fell 88% from more than 10,000 in 2002 to 1,500 in 2006.

As conflicts raged again around the world, the migrants kept coming.

Does clearing The Jungle solve the problem?

Migrants began sleeping rough, erecting rickety tents. At its peak 800 migrants lived here. By 2009 its brutal, uncontrolled nature had earned it the nickname The Jungle.

Early one morning on 22 September 2009 scores of French riot police bulldozed the makeshift shelters and rounded up hundreds of migrants. Even as they did so, charity workers warned the immigrants would return.

The camp as it is today, near the Port of Calais, where an estimated 3,000 migrants are living

With conflict raging in Syria and Iraq they were proved right. The refugees kept coming – and built again.

Today aid organisations say that upwards of 3,000 refugees, some as young as 12 years old, are living in Jungle 2.

The Eurotunnel says 2,000 migrants tried to storm the terminal in just one day. As many as nine migrants have died since the beginning of June.