Life in a Calais camp. Pic by Abdul Saboor


Abdul Saboor, an Afghan photojournalist based in Calais, discusses the plight of migrants in this freezing hell.

The Calais “jungle,” a makeshift encampment housing thousands of migrants who are trying to make the journey from Northern France to the United Kingdom, sprang up around five years ago at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis. Although authorities have tried to crack down on smuggling groups and dislodge the encampment, migrants have continued to flock to the city unabated.

At least 27 people died this week in a desperate attempt to leave the port city and cross the English Channel. So, this week Cristina Maza had a brief chat with Abdul Saboor, an Afghan photojournalist based in Calais, about his journey to the city and why people want to leave it.

Cristina: Where are you from originally, and how long have you been in Calais?

Abdul: I’m from Afghanistan. I’ve been in Calais now for about three and a half years. I left Afghanistan because life was hard. I worked with the US Army, and I was shot and injured a few times. Then the US left the city where I was working. They all went home, and I was left on the ground there, so I decided it was time to leave.

Cristina: How did you travel to France from Afghanistan?

Abdul: Walking. I crossed borders on foot. It took me two years. I stayed in forests, mountains, refugee camps, “jungles,” anywhere I could find. I passed through Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Hungry, Slovenia, and Italy. After that, I traveled to France and then Belgium and Spain. Eventually, I went back to France, and I have been here ever since. It was a very long, long trip.

Cristina: How did you support yourself during that time?

Abdul: When I was traveling, I did a little bit of photography. My family sent me a little bit of money for food. Now I teach photography in a university one day a week, and I sell my photos.

Cristina: I know that there’s been a recent uptick in the number of people trying to cross from Calais to the United Kingdom. Why is that happening now?

Abdul: Because the weather is bad. The camps are like hell. They are cold, windy, rainy. They are so cold. People are finding the camps very difficult. They don’t have enough to eat. A lot of people made a quick decision to leave. Many people go with traffickers. Some people try to go alone, but some go with traffickers. It’s because they are in the camps and they think, “what else can I do?”

Cristina: How much do the traffickers charge for their services?

Abdul: Different people charge different amounts. Some people charge 3,000 euros, some 2,000 euros or some people say 5,000 euros.

Cristina: How many people do you estimate are in the camps now?

Abdul: I think there are maybe around 2,000 people. There are a lot of Kurds. There are people from Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Mali, Eritrea, really from everywhere.

Cristina: What is the relationship between the people in the camps and the French authorities?

Abdul: The police are harassing people. Police are trying to evict people. They cut their tents. They give them a very difficult time.

Cristina: Why do people want to go to the UK instead of staying in France?

Abdul: Most people going to the UK tried another European country first. I don’t want to go to the UK because I have asylum in France. They didn’t get asylum, so they decided to go to the UK once they were rejected.

Learn more about Abdul and his work here. Here’s a short video about him:

Cristina Maza is the National Journal’s award-winning foreign policy and defense correspondent. Read more by Cristina Maza here

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