The Calais Jungle: The Good, the Bad, and the Playwrights

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Immigration is a challenge that meets all relatively stable governments and countries offering political asylum. The issue is not solely a hot topic in the United States. In fact, Trump’s suggestion to build a wall is a concept that is being orchestrated to control immigration to the UK from the Northern part of France. This area of Northern France, called Calais, is largely undeveloped but not largely uninhabited… The region has been nicknamed the “Jungle” for its history and conditions.

The two European governments are choosing to handle immigration facilitated via a railroad system called the Eurotunnel that goes under the water passage through the construction of a 13 ft wall. The water passage has served many brave and desperate immigrants either a life or death sentence, literally. The wall will cost a lofty 23 million dollars, funded by both countries.

The Calais Jungle is known as a refugee camp that has historically amassed a number of illegal immigrants, many of which are escaping their native countries of Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Iraq and Somalia. The camp has a long history beginning in 1999 with the opening of a migrant center to facilitate those attempting to reach the UK. By the year 2002, the camp had grown to an unmanageable 2000 individuals. The camp, not fully backed by the French government could not support the steady increase of needy people, and thus, closed abruptly. However, the establishment of these people without a safe place to which they could return meant the area became an unofficial “jungle” home. The immigrants courageously and stubbornly determined to reach the UK continued to arrive to the area. The unofficial and illegal camp became a growing, makeshift society of people with ominous backgrounds seeking a singular goal- a better life in a more objectively stable country. The illegal nature of the camp meant that it was quite dirty, unorganized, and unsafe according to several volunteers. In an attempt to eradicate this development that the government refused to support, the camp was bulldozed in 2009. In spite of their efforts to eliminate the inhabitants from this region of France, the community persisted.

The camp reopened and regained a significant amount of immigrants from the years of late 2014 to the camps official closure in October of 2016. This time period of a year and a half were monumental in the immigrant crisis that existed in this space. The camp grew to a fluctuating 10,000 individuals by 2016. Violence, poverty, and a community completely unsupported had become overwhelming. That said, it was not all ugly. The community had taken on its own personality.. The refugees had developed a functioning society among themselves and volunteers began appearing to help the many downtrodden peoples.

In 2015, two particular men arrived to the camp with ideas and a hope to change the lives through the devotion of their own. The two men, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, of Northern England and Oxford University came under their personal concerns about the growing migrant crisis. They eventually went on to raise money to create a community theater that would function within the camp. The theater was called “Good Chance and was used by a number of refugees for an array of purposes. One man of Sudan, in between his efforts to escape to the UK, found the theater as a place to participate in a band. This young man, known as Mr. Sarrar according to the New York Times, went on to seek asylum in the UK for for 5 years with a possibly indefinite residence in the future. He, along with many others, found the theater a place to play “upbeat music” and “dance the night away.”

While the camp was well-served by this theater, and the two men who built it created a sense of positivity among the inhabitants, the immigrant situation was nevertheless worsening. In October of 2016, the French government closed the camp and attempted to relocate all willing to regions throughout the country. The rest of the population returned to their home countries or, even in spite of the poor conditions in Calais, remained illegally.

As of 2018, the “jungle” is left only to those forlorn enough to live in what is now a dilapidated camp. Volunteers are still making trips to and from the region, raising money and attempting to help those refugees in desperate need. In February of 2018, two refugee groups engaged in violent acts over food handouts that resulted in 4 left in critical condition and dozens injured. Strict actions are being taken between the English and French governments to prevent further losses and to eradicate illegal movement of refugees between borders. The camp remains a relevant topic of concern.

As far as the British playwrights of the Good Chance Project, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Murphy, they resided as volunteers and theater coordinates up until the closure of the camp. They later went on to create the play entitled The Jungle that follows their experiences across a year throughout the camp. The play is used to raise awareness about the immigrant crisis that persists while telling a story of human existence, resilience, and inquiring about the role of external volunteers. The play began showing regularly in London this year as of June 16 according to The Guardian…



ELEANOR DAINKO is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia studying Spanish and Latin American Interdisciplinary Studies. She recently finished a semester in Spain, expanding her knowledge of opportunity and culture as it exists around the world. With her passion to change the world and be a more socially conscious person, she is an aspiring entrepreneur with the hopes of attending business school over seas after college. 

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