Because God Brought Us Here

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Photo by Banksy. Front photo by Peter Nicholls / Reuters

In honor of Friday's International Migrants Day, the U.N. held a candlelight vigil for those who have died, launched an "I Am A Migrant" educational campaign, and held a host of other events aimed at honoring the decades-long history of migration as "a courageous expression of the individual’s will to overcome adversity and to live a better life." But the up to 6,000 refugees fenced and hunkered in at the infamous quagmire that's become known as Calais' Jungle will spend the day much like any other - mightily striving to maintain their hope and will and families amidst muddy  uncertainty.

The refugees at The Jungle, mostly from Sudan, Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria, inhabit a muddy 40-acre former rubbish dump strewn with tents, huts, campfires, a makeshift school and medical tent, and a growing number of rickety shops. Most traveled for weeks or months across Europe, often by foot, to get here in hopes of ultimately making their way to the U.K. Though the camp is just 100 meters from the road to the French port city of Calais - which is just 30 miles across the English Channel to the U.K. - they remain trapped by both growing local animosity and loops of razor wire newly constructed by French police, who patrol with tear gas. Police also stopped a group of refugees who recently tried in vain to storm the road and get on trucks. 

Still, they have hope, and help. Aid groups have donated materials for shelter, volunteers run a medical clinic and school, and renowned street artist Banksy recently pulled apart his sprawling Dismaland installation, a dystopian send-up of Disneyland aimed at highlighting "inequality and impending catastrophe," and shipped the materials to the Jungle for new residences as part of "Dismal Aid." It's a good fit: The original attraction featured a small grungy pond site, dubbed "We're Not All In the Same Boat," where visitors could randomly take control of remote control boats holding fake migrants to replicate the fate of those who "have no control over (their) destiny." Banksy also evidently, anonymously dropped in to The Jungle, much as he did last year in Gaza, to install an image of Steve Jobs, holding a duffel bag in one hand and an original Mac in the other; the work is titled, "The son of a migrant from Syria."

This week a group of migrants likewise embarked on an art project, creating and selling cards of scenes - from joyful cartwheeling on the beach to police teargassing the camp - wryly dubbed "Wish We Weren't Here." By documenting "the beautiful things as well as the suffering," they hope both to both make the best of their arduous lives right now, and  leave a record as what Syrian teacher Baraa Halabieh, 31, calls "postcards to (the) future...I dream of a time when people will drive past here and the Jungle will be gone (and) all that there will be will be these postcards." Thus does the dream of a better life endure. Says another refugee, "Even if they build (the fence) into the sky, put a fire in front, put lions in front, put scorpions, we are going to pass. Because God brought us here."

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Inside The Jungle. AFP photo

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