Welcome To 'The Jungle,' Where Thousands Of Migrants Have Pitched Their Tents
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
We're going to go now to the point where northern France comes closest to England. It's there that thousands of migrants from - from the Middle East and Africa have pitched tents. And they've been allowed to put up their shelters in a campsite that's come to be called The Jungle. Many want to cross the English Channel into the U.K., and some have died trying. NPR's Ari Shapiro visited The Jungle and found these migrants are doing more than simply attempting to leave.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: The people here who get the most attention on the news are men like Awas Andeh. He's 25, from Eritrea. Since he arrived at The Jungle a week ago, he has tried daily to cross the English Channel into Britain.
AWAS ANDEH: I tried so many times. It is so difficult to get a chance.
SHAPIRO: Will you go in a truck or on a train?
ANDEH: If we get the train, by train. If we get a truck, by truck.
SHAPIRO: There are many men here who are not like Andeh. This campsite has only existed in this part of Calais since April. And already, some people are putting down roots. In the Afghan area, one man runs a restaurant out of a tent. In the Ethiopian section, Solomon Getacho has built a church out of plywood and plastic with a steeple reaching up to the sky.
In Ethiopia, were you a house builder, or did you learn how to do this here?
SOLOMON GETACHO: No, no. In Ethiopia, I have different work. But when I came here, not any church. So because of that, I'll build.
SHAPIRO: Will you show us the church?
GETACHO: Welcome, go.
SHAPIRO: Thank you.
SHAPIRO: We take off our shoes and step inside. It's cool and cavernous.
The floor is covered with rugs. And on the wall, there are icons. There's pictures of Jesus and Mary...
GETACHO: Yeah, that one is Michael.
SHAPIRO: That's Michael?
SHAPIRO: There are small tables, little altars with candles.
GETACHO: Yeah. For candle, yeah.
SHAPIRO: The roof is corrugated plastic. And a few of the plastic sheets are clear, so the sunlight shines through. Getacho says he will leave for the U.K. and hand custody of this church to someone else. That's how it works here. Maya Konforti is a volunteer with a local aid group called L'Auberge des Migrants.
MAYA KONFORTI: Last week, I talked with an Afghan guy who has a shop. And he says, yeah, I bought it because the man who build it succeeded to go to the U.K. And he's - when he arrived in the U.K., he said I'm selling my shop.
SHAPIRO: It went for $1,500. In this campsite, once you move beyond the piles of trash and dirt, there are expressions of individuality nearly everywhere. Alpha Jaigne comes from the Fulani people, shepherds in West Africa. He has built a traditional Fulani home, with a conical-thatched grass roof.
What have you created here?
ALPHA JAIGNE: I created my - I create my house.
SHAPIRO: You've created more than a house. You've created an entire compound that's full of art with vegetables and chickens. And it doesn't seem like a part of The Jungle. It seems like a home.
JAIGNE: Thank you very much. I do that because I respect myself first. Second thing, I do that because the government, they throw us here. We show them we are not animals. We are human beings, and we can do something.
SHAPIRO: His courtyard has tomato plants and an herb garden. There's a chicken coop. And he's painted phrases on the walls. One says in French here we sell immunization shots against racism. Another says I am not afraid of death. You can kill me, but you will not dishonor me. Alpha Jaigne says this is his way of reminding everyone who passes by that people need more than money. They need humanity. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Calais, France. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.