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As Night Falls On French "Jungle" Camp, Confused Refugees Try To Hold On

"The food is not the big problem; the problem is the confusion," one vendor told BuzzFeed News.

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As darkness fell on the Calais "Jungle" refugee camp in France, people lined up around the block of tents daubed with graffitied pleas for help.

Men sat on the muddy floor, stood over their bicycles, or huddled in groups, queuing for a meal distributed by a charity, and for what was for many the first meal of the day. For people who were to be put on to buses in the early hours of the morning, it would likely be their last of the day.

As the first buses left Calais in the early hours of Monday, when officials moved in to begin clearing the camp in northern France, the confusion among refugees was striking. Media trucks were parked outside the camp, waiting to capture the moment people boarded the coaches tasked with moving the refugees and migrants to 164 reception centres across France.

Heavily armed police were stationed at the entrance of the camp, with an extra 3,000 expected to be drafted into the port town this week. Smoke billowed from among the tents. None of the people BuzzFeed News spoke with knew what their fate would be.

Among the thousands of refugees and migrants were pockets of people who waiting for a bite to eat. Abdullah, 20, from Afghanistan, told BuzzFeed News he had already been at the camp for a year.

Holding a paper plate of rice and chicken, he was standing in a group of other young men who ate in a hurry. Abdullah was in a defiant mood.

"I’m staying. I’m going to England," he said. "People in France, after the border closed, are no good."

Addressing the heavy police presence surrounding the camp and their guarding as people boarded buses, Abdullah said: "I don’t understand. I’m controlled in the Jungle. Where will I go? I have no family, I have a problem."

Ezat, also from Afghanistan, said he had been at the camp for four months, and recalled his arduous journey around Europe.

"I was in the UK from 2006 and 2015. They kicked me out and the French police sent me to jail,” he said, adding that the situation has become more desperate.

The makeshift shops and aid stalls – painted with hopeful messages in graffiti – set up by migrants and aid workers had run out of supplies in the area to the back of the camp he was staying in. Some of the shops were already locked up, empty and abandoned.

“Today, there is no food and this was only the one time they gave food today,” Ezat said as the nearby mosque transmitted the call to prayer.

Charities are urging authorities to halt the planned demolition of the Jungle early Tuesday. Care 4 Calais said there was the potential for a very real humanitarian crisis in removing migrants and refugees from the camp.

"Destroying the basic infrastructure will achieve nothing more than making living conditions so much more inhumane," the group said in a statement. "While the Calais camp is far from ideal, these smaller camps have no running water at all, no showers, toilets or medical facilities, and are much more difficult for aid organisations to access with basic aid."

Save the Children, the international charity, said there were approximately 1,300 children living in squalid conditions in the camp. But if demolition proceeds before the children are identified and made safe, Save the Children warned that many may disappear.

Close to a washing area, and surrounded by fencing that snakes in and around the camp, Sohail, from Pakistan, runs a food distribution centre for volunteers in Calais. In the evenings, he gives food to people with no money. It is filled with men sitting at empty tables, and on bolsters by the wall, shielding them from the smoke and cold Calais air. The counter has little food left – a tray of mincemeat with peas.

“People are not worried," he said. "They know what’s going on and they’ve already passed so many difficult times."

“The food is not the big problem; the problem is the confusion,” Sohail added as night fell.

As the night wore on, the food lines disappeared, migrants and refugees standing as silhouettes while they watched fires burn and kept warm.

"The main thing is: Where will they go? And the second thing is, a lot of people dream to go to the UK, but don’t have money,” Sohail said.

Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Aisha Gani at aisha.gani@buzzfeed.com.

Ryan Broderick is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Ryan Broderick at ryan@buzzfeed.com.

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