The European Refugee Crisis in Calais, France

Sometimes things don’t go your way. “When holidays turn into nightmares”… this does not necessarily has to have something to do with a bad hotel or bad service. Private circumstances can lead to vacations without fun, too. When my journey to the Elvis festival in Blackpool, England in July started, I did not want to go at all. But in the end I let myself be persuaded to go and thought everything would be fine at my destination… It wouldn’t! Not at all… That is how it happened I found myself not only at the Eurotunnel for the first time of my life, but also in the center of the European refugee crisis in Calais.

From London to Calais via Eurotunnel: straight into the refugee crisis.

From London to Calais via Eurotunnel: straight into the refugee crisis.

After a few days in Blackpool and before leaving for Edinburgh (via Glasgow) where my return flight to Germany would have taken off, I decided – like once did Jack and Kate – to leave the island; right here, right now. So I first checked the flights from Manchester. Nothing… Then off to the station. But they wouldn’t sell any tickets to “Europe”. It was only for the second guy who used the term “Continental Europe”. However, I couldn’t care less; all I wanted was my ticket. First stop: London. That’s where I should get my ticket for the Eurotunnel to Calais, France. And that’s exactly what I did. Welcome to London Euston! Altogether I paid about 300 Euro (about 336 USD) for the whole show; not to mention the sunk costs regarding the reservations I already made for Glasgow and Edinburgh. I could have done InterRail (a railway ticket that allows unlimited rail travel in and between all participating countries for a certain period of time) for the same money but I had always considered that as being too expensive…

The journey through the Eurotunnel brought me – within one hour – right to Calais-Frethun in France. In 2014 I had last been to Calais. However, I had never been to Calais-Frethun… There is one tiny station with two rail tracks and one entrance hall. Some few people are getting out with me. Two taxis are waiting outside. They are leaving soon because there’s nobody left and I do not look like seeking a taxi. I’m on my mobile, trying to find out when I’ll be picked up from this place. There are no street signs and nobody knows where I am. I go back in to study the map.

The guy at the station speaks broken English and makes clear he is going to lock it up now. Well, okay, but please let me see the map first… Alright. Behind me, suddenly quarrels and shouting inside the building appears. In French and English the guy tries to explain to another man that he mustn’t stay in the hall any longer. They’re both incredibly loud and somehow aggressive, too. I am standing nearby foolishly, staring at the map, trying to give instructions through my cell-phone, and nervously watching the first guy shutting the doors. I thought everyone should leave before?! Am I trapped? I go on watching and instructing. I’m confused. As my instructions wouldn’t help anyway, I catch the man’s eye and try to insinuate I am wishing to leave the building now. No one cares. The men go on screaming at each other. The station guy even wants to call the police…

Finally he opens the door and lets me go out; I thank him politely and wait at a bench. There’s nothing but the bench. There’s nothing and no one around; only dense shrubs on the opposite side of the small street along a hillside up to an untraveled road. The other man has disappeared. Then the station guy is coming up to me and asks if I’ll be picked up anytime. Yes. When? No idea, soon, I hope. It would be better to not standing here alone. Too dangerous. Dangerous? I look around me, and again: there’s nothing! Now what exactly is it, which might be so dangerous out here? I ask him. Migrants, he says. Migrants? Well … Okay, I say and send out a text message that it is said to be dangerous here and please: hurry up! He says he had to go back in again, but he would keep an eye on me with the cameras, and check if I’m fine. While he is talking to me he flourishes like mad pointing with two fingers back and forth to his both eyes and the cameras – about five or more times. I ask myself if he is doing that for someone else whom I can’t see.

Boarding panel for the Eurostar from London to Calais-Frethun.

Boarding panel for the Eurostar from London to Calais-Frethun.

So I stand and wait. Wait … and wait … Eventually I hear noises in the shrubs in front of me. I again think about what the hell might be so dangerous here. I think about Jan Philipp Reemtsma, a German literary scholar and political activist, who explains in his book “Im Keller” that in the moment he got kidnapped in 1996 he had the thought that “that sounds too big to be a cat”. That’s what I think, too: the noises over there cannot be caused by an animal. I start imagining myself as the female star of “Taken 4” (but with no Liam Neeson to hunt my kidnappers down and kill them), and I also start worrying about my new laptop to be robbed … But then I ask myself: there wouldn’t be anyone sitting in those shrub, right!? … Well, maybe? Now it happens, I think. After this trip from hell, after all these enormous costs to escape from there – something really bad is going to happen now. The station guy returns. He is standing close to me and again he asks if anyone will pick me up, because he mustn’t leave me here alone. Soon, I hope. Do I want a cigarette? No, thanks. Smalltalk.

Finally, there’s a car in vision. At last! By now there are several conspiracy theories existing inside my head, all including “the migrants” and some also including the station guy. Usually I am not that nervous type of girl in abandoned areas but this guy really did a good job and scared me. He seems to be incredibly eased when I tell him I’ll be picked up now – and not only because he can finally knock off work. Again he emphasizes how dangerous everything is in Calais at the moment – especially for girls and that I really mustn’t stay outside alone. I thank him for waiting with me and get inside the car. Inside I’m being welcomed with “Unbelievable! Refugees and police everywhere! They are all over the place!” We are driving for some minutes, and I still cannot see anything or anyone. Phrases like “Gee, do they all have to overdo it that much…?” come to my mind. It is a two-lane road, there’s a huge thick shrubbery in the middle. Suddenly two dark-skinned men appear in between the shrubs and tear it apart when they break through it, leaving the leaves and branches on the street.

I am sitting inside the car – my mouth wide open. I am turning my head to the right. It goes down a hill and at the bottom are meadows and fields with some trees. It’s nearly dark outside now. It’s like I would imagine an African safari, but with animals instead of people: small groups of people are loitering in the fields. It feels like a safari because I am sitting in a locked up car with closed windows, staring into the wilderness, and watching those groups of people sitting on the ground. I can see laundry hung up on the trees, I can see people sleeping, sitting on the grass, crawling through the bushes, sitting on the sidewalks, sitting on the streets, I can see them standing around, walking, running and above all I can suddenly see this huge contingent of police men! Everywhere! I can also see huge vans with more police men surrounding them. I realize that actually most of the bushes had been torn apart – apparently the refugees are forcing themselves through the wilderness all the time. I don’t feel comfortable anymore and now I am very glad and thankful that the station guy did not leave me standing there alone!

Back in Germany I read about the refugee crisis in Calais and about all the problems that had reached a current peak at the very weekend when I was staying there. “Refugee crisis becoming worse and worse!”; somehow like that they’re headlining everywhere. I read about truck drivers who are threatened by refugees, who desperately try to make their ways into the Eurotunnel from France to Great Britain. I read about problems which constantly grow, getting worse and more and more irrepressible. Today, about three month later, I still read about the troubles with the refugees in Calais, about how the intrusion by large group of migrants stopped Eurotunnel service overnight, and I can hardly believe I had got straight into the very center of it – unknowingly. I was sure I had made a lot of photos when I was there but I must admit – annoyed as I had generally been back then and also confused about the situation in Calais, well, it seems like I had honestly forgotten to do so…

Best wishes,