Skip To Content

    This Is The Story Of The Migrants In Calais

    Migrants in Calais have been painted by the tabloid press as a menacing group who are breaking into lorries and causing traffic jams. Meanwhile, the town's mayor has said it can't cope with the numbers. But who are they, where have they come from, and why did they leave their homelands? BuzzFeed News travelled to Calais to find out.

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Daniel Fsai (left) and Lool (centre) sit with a friend alongside the exit junction for the Channel tunnel. They are waiting for the traffic to build again. This will be their fourth attempt of the day to get to the UK.

    On the edge of Calais, hundreds of migrants from across Asia and Africa are desperately attempting to make it into Britain, either by sneaking on to lorries making the ferry crossing or by stowing away on trains going through the Channel tunnel.

    These individuals, many of whom have trekked thousands of miles across continents and survived sea crossings in the Mediterranean in a bid for a better life, have nowhere to go and nowhere to return to. Border authorities are struggling to contain them, and thousands are now living in a semi-permanent camp – referred to by migrants as "the jungle" – just outside the French town.

    Syed Etim, 23

    “I’m from Darfur, where there’s a war. There’s a genocide still going on and people are being raped. Our problem is not solved. In Sudan I lived in a refugee camp and then went to Libya. I paid $3,000 to get into a boat to go to Italy. We spent more than 15 days in the boat because there were a lot of waves. We stopped and spent three days in one place because it was so bad.

    “I want to go to the UK because when I was in the refugee camps I was studying English. I don’t know how to speak French, and I don't know how to deal with French people.

    “And the situation here is very difficult. We're living in a jungle, like animals. Even sometimes when you get into the city, some try and hit us with bottles.

    "Some people don't want black people in the city.”

    Ali Muhammed

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed
    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Ali Muhammed, from Sudan, was shot multiple times and left to die by rebels before fleeing to France. He is seeking residency in France.

    “I got to Calais three months ago after leaving Sudan because of the Arab militia. They came to our village and shot everyone in the village. My brother was killed. I was shot in the shoulder and arm and I only survived because they thought I was dead.

    "I went to Libya and there I was put in the al-Kuwayfia jail for five months. The militia tortured and punished me and barely gave us any food. Six people died in the jail when I was there. A high-ranking officer named Salim took me out and made me work for him for one month. I was given macaroni and rice to eat but it wasn’t enough. I worked for him because I just wanted to be free.

    “I tried twice to get to Europe by boat. The first time, only two people survived. I grabbed hold of a large container and held on to it. I then had to wait one month because the smuggler said I could go again because I paid the first time.

    "I've been here for three months and applied for asylum a week ago. There’s no advantage of leaving and I don’t want to suffer again. I’ve suffered my whole life. I’m done.”

    David, 22

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed
    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    David, originally from Eritrea, told us how his feet were beaten until they bled as he was tortured in his home country as a child.

    “I’ve been here for three months and tried getting out of the country once. Then I saw the church [in the camp] and thought, I have to finish it. I won’t leave because I made a promise to God that I would finish building it. Any way, any how. Once we’ve done this, I’ll try and get on to a train.

    “We left Eritrea because we didn’t have social freedom and my mum and dad were really suffering because they couldn’t practise their religion. They took me when I was 6 or 7 and just ran away to Sudan. My dad died when I was 3. My mum didn't really know why. She said some people came and said they were from the government and took him. My mum died of cancer when I was 15. My wife died when she gave birth to our son.

    "From Sudan, it took me a year and six months to get to France. I went to so many jails in Libya. Some people pay to help others out. I have no one in the world except my baby boy, so who’s going to pay to get me out? And when I saw people escaping, I followed them. They had cars waiting for them outside. I didn't.

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    There are many new buildings springing up in and around the camp. This one is in the very early stages of construction. From here they will insulate using blankets and plastic sheeting.

    "I was caught and put again in jail because I didn’t have any documents. I was an illegal. They whipped my palms and feet in jail. Some people had their kidneys taken."

    “[When I got out of jail,] I asked the boat drivers to help me in the name of God. God helped me. I told him, ‘I’m not meant to face this life. I’m just a baby.’

    “I want to go to the UK because I speak English. I want to study. But it’s difficult. When we try and get to the other side of the road [towards the lorries], police use pepper spray on us. But we don’t blame them. They’re only doing their jobs. They know it’s not right. We blame the government.”

    Gulbaz Zatran, 20

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Gulbaz Zatran fled Afghanistan.

    "People say there's no fighting or violence in our country. Is there really not? Every day there's a bomb blast somewhere. There's a lot of violence in Afghanistan. My family is there. My father was killed in a bomb blast.

    "If I didn’t have difficulties there, why would I have come here? Does that life sound good to you? It isn't. It isn't good – that's why I'm here.

    "I worked in the Afghanistan army for a while. The Taliban objected and asked me, 'Why do you work here?' So I ran away. They threatened to kill my father if I didn't return, but I still didn't go.

    "My mother, father, family – everyone was killed by the Taliban. I am alone now.

    "I made it here after shuttling between Iran, Turkey, and Italy. I had no money and I had to sneak into a boat. I've been here for eight months now, in this jungle, and I'm trying every day to get out.

    "I’m trying to raise money to get smuggled in. In England, the life is better. People respect you more.

    “I have no one. What should I do? My life here isn’t good in Afghanistan and I don’t have anyone left. People don’t come here because they want to."

    Alpha Dia, 32

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed
    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Alpha Dia's father fought for France against Germany in 1945 and was promised that his family would have somewhere to stay. When Dia – who declines to say what country he's from out of fear of reprisals – told French officials this, he was told his father hadn't signed the paperwork.

    “In my country they use Sharia law. We’re like slaves there. I know if they found me here, I’d have a problem.

    "I moved in 2005 and was in Turkey for one year, then Greece for six years. I stayed in Bulgaria for a few days, then Belgium for three months, to Paris. I’ve lived in France for three years now and in Calais for six months.

    “In the UK, we find out whether we can get asylum in six months. In France, it’s over a year. Here, we have one or two cars that come twice a week. They take our money and beat us until you’re on the ground, and they hit young people. Ten people have been put in the hospital in the last three weeks.

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Dia thinks the French government is trying to force migrants to leave by making their lives miserable.

    "We’ve shown the police the number plate and they haven’t done anything. Some tell me, ‘Let’s break the windscreen,’ but I say no because people will see us. We will show who we are through our actions.

    “I’m sure if my mum saw me here she would cry. I used to live in the town centre and every day the police used to move me. Now I'm taking a rest. Sometimes the police, they take our shoes and drop us a few miles away [if they catch us in lorries] so we don’t want to walk any more.

    “I'm going to stay here for a little while. I’m tired. My friends are tired too. I don't know how to get across. I’ve tried too many times.”

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Migrants fill large containers at the water supply at the far end of the camp. Many take shopping trolleys with them to reduce the number of trips they have to make.

    Daniel Fsai, 17

    “I left Khartoum because sometimes I would get work and sometimes I didn’t. I’ve been in Europe for one year and three months, and nine months in the jungle. You shouldn’t call where we live a camp, it’s a jungle. The jungle is for animals, it's not for us.

    “I’ve tried getting out so many times, I tried three times today and got into lorries. Then I got caught and they dropped me at KFC. I got caught three times yesterday, too. Sometimes there's no cars. Sometimes there's a lot. It just depends.

    “But now police are using pepper spray – they used it on me once today and twice yesterday. I have a cigarette to calm me afterwards.”


    "I’ve been trying to get into the UK for six months. I recently applied for asylum. But I haven’t given up and still try every day to get under lorries between the tyres. I just try and hold on with my hands. I’ve managed to get under lorries 10 times already.

    "I try every night between 1am and 3am because there’s more traffic and the lorries move slower so I have a better chance of getting underneath."

    Derek's real name has been withheld due to fears over his safety.

    Mohammed Ibrahim, 33

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Mohammed Ibrahim, from Sudan, waits at the back of the line in a white shirt for a chance to get some food handed out by one of the local charities.

    “I’ve been here one month and one week. From Sudan, I crossed the desert to Libya, then I crossed by boat to Italy, then drove to Paris and went to Calais.

    “The Sudanese regime destroyed my village with mortars, they destroyed everything, so I took my wife and child and we crossed to go to Kalma camp. At the time my son was just a year old. I’ve been away from them for a year.

    “In Libya, I was travelling to leave, and someone stole everything from us. They took everyone's mobile phone and money. If you have no money, they take you as a hostage. They give you a phone and make you call your relatives so they give money. I had to go back to Sudan and work to make the money back to make the journey.

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Mohammed Ibrahim shows us the ticket that entitles him to a shower. He said there is only a 1 in 7 chance of getting a ticket.

    “Some people from the community [in France] – the fascists – they see us as animals and treat people in not a good manner. Some throw stones at us, some people run over us with their cars. My friend Idris, he broke two legs after he was run over. He's in hospital now. They [the government] want to keep us like animals in a big cage.

    “When I tried getting across, they put me in a detention centre and introduced me to an asylum officer. They also gave me a lawyer and interpreter and released me after that. They tried sending me back to Sudan but the lawyer showed there was a ‘grave danger’ if I went back. I'm going to apply for asylum now.”

    Ahmied Hessen, 36

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed
    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Ahmied Hessen shows off his bag and shirt, which are soaked in pepper spray after 5–10 police officers scattered hundreds of migrants who were sitting in a field using tear gas and force. Most were waiting for traffic to build up to give them another shot at getting into a lorry.

    "I left Sudan because I didn’t get safety [there]. My village got attacked. I was with my wife. I don’t know what’s happened to her. The military is going in and attacking all the villages and attacking everyone. I came here for safety. I'm still running."

    On why he had just been pepper-sprayed: "When we went into the supermarket we went into the line. The blacks were in a line and only five were allowed at a time, and the whites went straight through [into the store]. We bought everything we needed to eat. I paid with money.

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Migrants being chased off by police from a local supermarket. The police are using pepper spray to disperse the crowds.

    "We needed to eat something. When we walked out, there were police and they chased us and they sprayed us with pepper spray gas.

    "I want to go to the UK because I want safety. How can we stay with these people?"

    Zabeen Rasooli, 23

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Zabeen Rasooli fled Afghanistan.

    "My father died 15 years ago. He was involved in fighting and was killed by the Taliban. It was dangerous for me there too because I was working for an American company. I worked for three construction companies where I helped to build a compound for the Afghanistan army and police, like [the one] in Helmand. It was for both the American and Afghanistan army.

    "The Taliban said, ‘Stop working for them. If you don’t stop working, we’ll kill you.' I stopped working for them, but there wasn’t anyone to help my family. So I left Afghanistan and I’ve been in Europe for six years."

    "Germany didn’t give me [asylum] papers. I was working in a pizza shop. They didn’t keep people so I went back to Italy. I stayed there for two years and they gave me [asylum] papers for five years. But there was no work, there was nothing to take home. I was sleeping in a park.

    "Even here, this isn’t a life for me. I can’t tell my mum and five brothers that I live in the jungle. When I speak with my family, they ask me where I’m living, I say, 'I live in a building, I have an apartment.’ I can’t go back to see my family. I only see them over Skype.

    "I want to work in the UK. In Italy there wasn’t any work. A lot of people leave Italy to go to the UK for work. If you’re seeking asylum here, you don’t get a home. I’ve lived here for four months. We just live in the jungle. How can you live in a jungle? The jungle is for animals, not for people."

    Tristan Potter / SWNS for BuzzFeed

    Large groups of migrants work together to help each other get into the lorries to the UK.

    Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Siraj Datoo at

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here

    News moves fast. Keep up with the BuzzFeed News daily email!

    Newsletter signup form