On Sunday, as France observed the first day of a three-day mourning period for the victims of Friday’s attacks on Paris, migrants in a sprawling camp in Calais, some 200 miles away, eyed the situation — and each other — with growing unease.
While the City of Light reeled from the senseless massacre of at least 132 concertgoers, soccer fans and restaurant diners and the chilling knowledge that the Islamic State (I.S.) had quickly and proudly claimed credit, a fire broke out in the Jungle, the stiflingly overcrowded, hopefully temporary home to some 6,000 refugees, RT reported.
Few considered it a coincidence, and many went to bed at the end of this nightmarish weekend as terrified as native Parisians that the neighbor they hardly know might harbor terrorist sympathies. One family immediately abandoned the site, according to RT, and others were preparing to follow suit. New arrivals — as many as 100 a day — were greeted with suspicion. As one migrant said:
“We have people from about 20 countries here. How do I know which . . . are Daesh [Arabic for the I.S.] and which . . . are not? Really, we are so nervous now.”
The attacks served as but the latest volley in a debate that has gripped the continent for most of the year. Critics of the European Union’s relatively accommodating stance toward the waves of people fleeing civil war or sectarian violence in their homelands welcomed President François Hollande’s decision to seal off France’s borders for the first time since World War II.
And E.U. leaders were said to be weighing the future of the Schengen Agreement, which allows virtually free movement within much of Europe. Finland was among those countries said to be considering reinstituting border controls, a stance further prompted by news that seven of the eight attackers, including one allegedly still at large, came from Belgium.
Amid sharp calls for turning away all refugees, Syrian nationals living in Paris denounced the I.S and the tenets of radical Islam. Some noted that Friday’s horror recalled the unspeakable everyday reality that they thought they had left back home.
Quartz interviewed a number of Syrian migrants, and each decried the spilling of innocent blood. Haya Jamal Al-Ali, a Parisian formerly from the city of Al-Raqqa — now said to be the capital of the Islamic State — offered that:
“This is why Syrians are fleeing the country . . . because of [the I.S.]. I am a Syrian, Muslim and Sunni. These terrorists have been killing and beheading my friends since 2013. I came to France seeking safety. [The I.S. is] not Syrians . . . We are all fighting terrorism.”
To reach the Jungle — a makeshift city of tents and endless tensions — refugees must first navigate treacherous waters, hike over merciless terrain and otherwise elude border patrols. And at the end of such an arduous journey, there awaits not a rainbow but, rather, a political and social limbo that essentially denies them the right to leave to try to start over in another European city.
Having come this far, many gaze longingly in the general direction of Britain but are constantly prevented from crossing the English Channel or seeking asylum in France. The Jungle has become something of a way station for those who can neither go back nor move on with their lives.
And now, after these latest attacks, they may find themselves targeted by potential terrorists in their midst who view them as sellouts for not joining what they see as every Muslim’s cause. Or right-wing locals, seeing their accidental neighbors as having opened a door to the murderous hordes, may go on the attack. As Parisian authorities carry out raids on suspected militants, the specter of vigilante justice comes into sharp focus.
So why stay? Well, the Jungle, at its best, is a place where refugees are assured food, shelter and the occasional minor job with which to shoo away the boredom of waiting for a change in passport status that carries no assurance of ever actually arriving. Many are content to wait as long as it takes if it means a chance at a life free of violence.
But those who spoke to RT revealed a fear that, after Friday’s madness, they may soon have little choice but to flee the Jungle for the same reasons they fled Syria, Iraq and other tempest-tossed lands of their birth.
One man no doubt spoke for many when he told RT through an interpreter that, as a member of the Kurdish military, he fought the I.S. in northern Iraq and has no desire to take up arms anew on the shores of Calais:
“If Daesh people are here, we don’t want to stay here. Maybe we will run away. We are going to leave the camp, because now the Kurdish people are fighting with Daesh, [and] we want to be safe.”