Calais, Belle Ma Ville

In October 2016, the most recent ‘Jungle’ camp was demolished in its entirety. Most of those who had lived there boarded buses to accommodation centres across France, though some chose to stay and continue their attempts to cross, taking shelter in nearby woods. A small number of minors were transferred to the United Kingdom for family reunification and foster care.

In the months preceding the demolition, the ‘Jungle’ – which at its peak was thought to accommodate more than 10,000 people – became a near-permanent fixture in tabloid newspapers and a focal point for public anxiety about the possibilities of unregulated migration into Britain post-Brexit. Perceptions of what was happening in Calais were often binary, pitting a unified and nativist Calaisien population against an array of foreign threats, a version of events that occasionally found substance in the comments of city officials. Speaking at the inauguration of a statue in a public park, Mayor Natasha Bouchart remarked that Calais was ‘about to reconquer its city’. Once known for producing some of the finest lace in the world, this historic industry had been gradually lost to changing tastes and globalised manufacturing. Now, through the sudden arrival of a transient second population, the city – according to this narrative – had again had something taken away from it.

But Calais and its migratory history are deeper and more intertwined than this. Far from a city blighted by its location on the border, this remains one of its defining features – simultaneously the last stop before England and the gateway to mainland Europe. Calaisiens are not uniformly right-wing, though almost all would rather the city’s second population were not there – a sentiment shared by the migrants themselves, for whom the UK is overwhelmingly the destination. But with an ever-tightening border regime, the product of a bilateral agreement between London and Paris, it is difficult to shake the sense that this is a small, peripheral place saddled with a big problem – and largely abandoned by those with the power to change it.

These photographs are part of a long-form story Calais Belle Ma Ville, published in the first issue of Point.51.

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