See Life Inside The Calais Jungle, The Heart Of Europe’s Moral Failure On Refugees

Outside of the French city, some 9,000 refugees are creating a community out of nothing, as they wait for European governments to properly mount a response to the crisis.

The Calais camp near the port city in northern France–also known as the Calais “Jungle”–has become the heart-wrenching symbol of Europe’s migrant crisis. But the estimated 9,000 people who now live there aren’t symbols, they are people. And life in the squalid camp goes on, even after the French government razed half the camp last year and even as the U.K. launched construction this month on the “Great Wall of Calais,” aimed at blocking migrants from hitching a ride across the English Channel.


Photographer José Farinha visited the Calais camp earlier this year and did an excellent job documenting the heroic attempts at daily life–the food stalls and prayer meetings and kids at play–despite the terrible conditions that surround them. You can see his photos above, which tell a visual story of how people create community in the most difficult circumstances.

Friday prayers on the main road of the Jungle. On Fridays the mosques are always full–the community lays their rugs on the street and joins the prayers.

For as long as Calais exists in its current state, it will be a symbol of Europe’s failure to effectively and justly deal with the humanitarian crisis. Governments fear that encampments like Calais will become permanent, and there are no major aid groups on the ground (leaving haphazard aid efforts to well meaning and some not-well-meaning volunteers). France’s plans to shut down Calais, meanwhile, don’t answer the harder question of what happens to the people living there. The concrete wall, critics in the U.K. say, is no better than what anti-immigrant candidate Trump proposes to do in the U.S.

Creative solutions are possible but not immediate. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo this week announced a plan to become the first major European city to welcome and house migrants in a dedicated space that will have room for 400 to 600 people, according to the Washington Post. And as Co.Exist’s Adele Peters recently covered, some designers and housing advocates view the migrant crisis as an opportunity to improve urban housing for everyone.

In the meantime, the people at Calais–some in these photos taken from February to April this year, and others who have arrived since then–will live on and continue to strive for better lives with whatever they’ve got available.

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[All Photos: © José Farinha], (Instagram: J_Farinha)


About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire.