By Helena Merriman
BBC News


Benjamin looks through the wire fence separating him from the Calais dock and shows me where he tried to smuggle himself through to Britain.

“I tried to get underneath a bus,” he says. “But at the last minute my smuggler left, taking my money with him.”

This is one of the consequences of the closure this week of “the jungle” – the makeshift illegal camp in Calais where around 1,000 migrants were once living.

Most of them are from Iraq and Afghanistan, and are trying to reach the UK.

Living in the camp with the migrants were people-smugglers, or “agents”, who would help migrants sneak into the UK on either lorries or buses.

But since the closure of the camp, many of these “agents” have disappeared, while others have put their prices up.

“Before, they charged 1,000 euros ($1,500; £920), but now they ask for 1,500 euros. They know people are more desperate to reach Britain now as they have nowhere else to live.”

The “jungle” is now just rubble and rubbish. Within the churned up earth are bits of clothing, bottles and shoes.

Finding somewhere new to take shelter is difficult for those migrants formerly living there.

Some sleep under bridges, others on the streets.

They have to contend with the hundreds of other migrants who have already staked out their territory.

In a disused building, which migrants call “Africa house”, Eritreans sit smoking out of the broken windows.

Turks and Uzbeks live in the long grass near the old hoverport. A trail of socks, cardboard and empty plastic bottles leads into a recently vacated clearing.

And Sudanese, Palestinians and Egyptians have taken the area next to the lighthouse. The only visible difference to the look of the camp is the Arabic graffiti on the wall.

Many of the migrants rely on NGOs for help. Every day at lunchtime, at Quai de La Moselle, a derelict space of open land, around 100 of them gather for a free lunch of bread, eggs and bananas.

The area is known as “the wasteland”.

‘American dream’

Zazou, a French local, works in a bar in Calais. “It’s a very sad story for people here,” he says.

“We didn’t used to see the migrants in the street because they had ‘the jungle’. But since they erased ‘the jungle’, what will they do now? Will they sleep in the street? It’s very dangerous for them. But they stay here because England for them is the American dream.”

Of all the migrants I met in Calais, only one was on the reverse journey.

Twenty-two-year-old Malik was on his way home from Britain to Pakistan. He says he spent four years in England and now misses his family so wants to return.

The others surrounding him say they cannot understand why he wants to go home.

Ahmad Nazeer is the assisted voluntary return officer for the International Organisation for Migration. He is doing the rounds, telling the migrants about the Voluntary Return Programme.

He says the programme aims to help those migrants who are now stuck in Calais and who have suffered at the hands of people smugglers.

It provides migrants who opt for voluntary return with free travel assistance home and a cash grant.

Mr Nazeer says that he helped 60 Afghan migrants to return home last month. When I tell this to some of the migrants, they do not believe me.

“Why would anyone go home?” they ask.


Benjamin has now used up the money he had saved to fund his crossing to Britain. I ask him whether he will return to Iran if he cannot reach the UK.

“I cannot go back,” he says. “I left before the elections as I feared for my safety because of my political beliefs.”

It is hard to tell which migrants are facing real danger back home, and which ones are economic migrants.

But one problem most of them face, regardless, is paying off their debts to the people smugglers.

Before leaving, migrants tend to pay a portion of the total amount to their agent, the rest is paid once they’ve earned enough money in their destination country.

Many fear that if they return home now, they will never be able to raise enough money to repay the smugglers.

They say that if they return home without money to pay them, they could be killed.

France’s Immigration Minister, Eric Besson, said on French television that the imminent closure of “the jungle” would send a strong message that people-traffickers could no longer use Calais as a launch point.

With the departure of some of the people-smugglers, and the increase in their smuggling rates, perhaps that will work.

But in the meantime, what does the future hold for those migrants here already?

They tell me that if they cannot get to the UK, they will stay in Calais. Very few consider going home.

So for the migrants, Calais has become a kind of purgatory. Britain, for them, is the ultimate dream. Home, the opposite.

All they do now is wait.