Calais Jungle: Refugees fear separation after eviction

Refugees set Calais camp on fire in protest against its dismantling and their eviction by the French government.

Syrian refugees in France’s ‘jungle’ refugee camp have said they fear long-term separation from their family members who have reached the UK as authorities continue to dismantle the settlement.

About 40 Syrians are holding out in Calais, once home to around 10,000 people from the Middle East, Africa and southern Asia.

Several refugees told Al Jazeera they were weighing up their options but their primary objective remained joining immediate family across the English channel.

“We haven’t changed our plans,” said Yamin who is from the Syrian capital Damascus. 

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“We have families in England. My wife is in England too. The French government is giving us just one month in the refugee centres and after that we don’t know what it’ll do. We still have the same issues, we have to go to England but how, we don’t know.”

Mohamed Khalid, in his 40s and from the city of Aleppo, was similarly intent on reuniting with his wife and four children who were now in England.

“I don’t want to stay in France because I have no one here,” Khalid said. “The French government is giving me a month to think about claiming asylum in France but I only want to go to my family.”

France began its eviction of the ‘jungle’ on Monday and has transferred thousands of its inhabitants to reception centres across the country.

Refugees protested the dismantling of the makeshift camp by setting it on fire.

Al Jazeera’s David Chater, reporting from Calais, said the refugees were forced to fend for themselves as “blazes were lit inside the Jungle Camp in a dangerous display of defiance”.

“There were scenes of anarchy and chaos. French fire crews and police tried their best to tackle the flames but the narrow lanes of the shanty town meant there were some place they couldn’t reach.”

‘The refugees are confused’

Independent aid worker Naeem Akhtar said many of the refugees he had spoken to had little idea of what to do next.

“The refugees are confused. Some say they want to go back to Syria while some say they are going to take asylum in France,” Akhtar said.

“A young Syrian, who couldn’t make it [to the UK], said he would rather go back to Syria than take asylum anywhere else but England.”

At its peak, the Calais camp housed between 500 and 1,000 Syrians. Many of them have now reached the UK, moved to other unofficial settlements, or have claimed asylum in France.

The men Al Jazeera spoke to were excluded from recent British efforts to take in children and other vulnerable refugees due to their age.

The refugees fear that by claiming asylum in France, they would have to undergo a lengthy asylum process that would prevent them from permanently settling with their families in the UK.

In a survey conducted by the Refugee Rights Data Project before the eviction, 59 percent of respondents in the camp said they would stay in the Calais area once the clearance took place.

Follow Shafik Mandhai on Twitter: @ShafikFM

Source: Al Jazeera