Voices of the Jungle

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Every year, thousands of people arrive on the shores of Calais with the intention of crossing the English Channel in search of a better life. Some of them are economical immigrants escaping from the poverty that has been created by the constant exploitation of their countries by Europe and the United States. Others arrive carrying the heavy burden of the fear and the horrors of so many wars that had been imposed on their homelands by the greed of just a few. In this small city in the north of France, with a population of just 130,000 people, there is as small Babylon that has been wrongly baptised with the name of “The Jungle”. In here, lives have been sacrificed, the lives of many people who have risked all they have just for a chance to taste the opportunity of a life with peace and better opportunities. In here, more than 7,000 people manage to live squashed into a very small area by the side of a road that goes straight to the port of Calais.

In this place, where the cold never rests and the humidity permeates your lungs making you curse every time you breathe, the immigrants began making their first settlements in 1999 with the help of the French Red Cross. At that time it was called Le Sangatte, Then it got relocated and later became “The Jungle”.

With war ravaging their nations, the number of immigrants has increased dramatically in recent decades. People from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Eritrea, Sudan, Palestine, Yemen, and many more countries arrive here trying to escape the horrors of war, abandoning the dead they couldn't bury, and carrying forever the deep scars of losing their roots. In here they try to make peace with their pain and regain the strength to try to cross the English Channel and finally be reunited with their families or start a new life by themselves.

Even though there are many women and children in the camp, most of the population are males. Their ages are nearly impossible to guess; someone told me once, “In the jungle you get threeyears older for every year that you live here”. The extent of their ordeal depends on where they’ve come from and what route they took to arrive here. Some journeys are extremely hard because of the abuse suffered from the authorities, the traffickers, which can add so much more pain and trauma.

I had the opportunity to work in ‘The Jungle” on and off for over a year delivering participatory workshops to refugees with the idea of giving them resources to help them to tell their own story. Once I started my work and they got to know me I become to be know as “the people’s photographer”. In there, I made incredible friends and I got to know some wonderful people that even though violence has stole everything from them, most of them were happy to offer me their friendship and their testimonies.

The book has been written to give a voice to all those people that lived in The Jungle, all of those that were betrayed and misrepresented by the mainstream media and decided to trust me, offering me their voice and their memories.

Miguel Ángel Amórtegui.