Calais camp migrants learn French at makeshift school

Migrants at a makeshift camp in Calais learn French to help with asylum applications, as tensions rise around French shipping port.

CALAIS, FRANCE (AUGUST 1, 2015) (REUTERS) – A makeshift migrant camp in Calais, known as “The Jungle”, is the home to some 3,000 men, women and young children hoping to one day cross the Channel and reach Britain in search of a better life.

The northern French port has become one of the frontlines in Europe’s wider migrant crisis, alongside Italian and Greek islands used as an entry point for those crossing the Mediterranean from Africa or the Middle East.

A school has been set up within the camp, where French volunteers such as Veronique Soufflet give lessons to migrants hoping to learn French for asylum applications.

“Today, I’m going to give a French lesson. So, it is for asylum seekers who want to stay in France and therefore want to learn how to speak French, because some speak it but many only speak English and Arabic and not French. So, I’m going to give a lesson to teach them things useful for daily life,” Soufflet told Reuters.

Many of the migrants in the camp, who originate from countries such as Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, took the perilous Mediterranean crossing from Libya, travelling through Europe towards Calais in the hope of reaching Britain’s shores.

A 22-year-old Afghan migrant said he fled the country out of fear for his life, after being threatened by the Taliban.

“I was interpreter in Afghanistan and because of my interpreter and translation, Taliban gave me warning to stop working with American people. I was working with American people so that’s why I leave. And it was so hard for me to leave, even in Kabul city, you know, they say we will never see you in Kabul city, we will not let you, we will kill you, so that’s why my family say it’s better to leave Afghanistan and live where you want to go. That’s why I came here,” he said, although he didn’t want to be identified.

Freight and passenger traffic through the rail tunnel have been severely disrupted in past weeks as migrants desperate to enter Britain have stepped up attempts to board trucks and trains travelling from France.

27-year old Eritrean migrant Deborah, who left the country after her father died to look for work, described, in broken English, the daily struggle migrants face, and her dreams of one day making it onboard a Eurotunnel train.

“Day to day, train, train station, chance, I think, one day. At least all night police and we are running, jumping, we are jumping in water, in dark,” she said.

“Life is this,” she added, with a smile.

Migrants have long gathered in Calais to try to get into Britain. But Eurotunnel, the firm that runs freight and passenger shuttles via the Channel Tunnel, says numbers have swelled to around 5,000 people from about 600 and that it is struggling to cope.

It says migrants have also become better organised, mounting nightly attempts to storm the facilities in large groups.

Eurotunnel has sometimes been forced to suspend its services, causing disruption at what is one of the busiest times of the year for British holidaymakers.