Remembering the Calais Jungle

When I visited the refugee camp in Calais with Olumide Popoola – conducting research for our book, breach – I imagined a day when the place named the “Jungle” would no longer exist. We’d all prefer, wouldn’t we? that those forced to flee their own countries receive protection, safe passage and opportunities to build new lives. With none of these assured, however, the camp has been demolished. At least for now, the Jungle in Calais is no more.

Along with hardship, violence and uncertainty, the Jungle also offered some kind of community. Keeping in contact with under-age refugees scattered across France, Professor Sue Clayton noted that many of them wished they could return to Calais. Sue was presenting clips from her new films at Calais Stories, hosted by Goldsmiths University’s Centre for Feminist Research and the Migration Research Network. At the same event, where I read excerpts from breach and discussed representation, two colleagues from the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London, Drs Aura Lounasmaa and Cigdem Esin, described how they have engaged with and supported refugees to tell their own stories.

Using real names, appearing in photographs: these are freighted ethical concerns for refugees and for those of us seeking to convey their experiences. They remain issues even once someone has been granted asylum: does she or he want to be identified with this period, internet-archived, for the rest of their lives?

I’m a dedicated camera-phone snapper. Some might say over-enthusiastic. But I restrained myself in Calais – it was difficult to take a photograph that didn’t show someone’s face. But I did want a few images to jog my memory later. After the Goldsmiths event, I revisited my file of Jungle photographs and realised that several of the moments I’d captured (not particularly well) are associated with specific stories in breach. If you’ve read the stories, you might recognise them. And if you spent time in the Jungle, you probably have similar images and memories of your own.

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  1. “the fierce white fences that line the railway tracks and the road to the ferries”

* see below for the story title and page number

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2. “one of those absurdly riotous sunsets … crimson streaking into fuchsia”

gamble-jungle-gravel

3. “a playing card on the newly laid white gravel of the pathway. The Joker.”

fire-damage

4. ” ‘Always fires, so easy here.’ ”

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5. “The camp feels a lot less like a music festival this morning.”

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6. This image does not feature directly in any of the breach stories but I won’t forget it. Sunlight streaks into a smokey canvas shelter where I am sitting with Olu and a group of refugees round a fire. We’re drinking tea, laughing and talking. Someone drops his bicycle on the sand outside and ducks under the tent flap to join us.

Thank you, kind strangers and new friends, for your hospitality.


* Story titles and page numbers:

  1. “Oranges in the River”, page 127
  2. “The Terrier”, page 44
  3. “Paradise”, page 81
  4. “Lineage”, page 123
  5. “Paradise”, page 77

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