Written by Holly Walker, CNN
It’s a million-mile walk – from Casablanca to London. Migrants have vowed to do it in just two months, in the wake of last week’s bloody attack on the London Bridge terror group.
But at the cold, damp and raw camp on the northern French coast, it’s not just about taking that step.
It’s about starting to answer questions these migrants have never had to before. “Is it really about going to England? Because here we are dying,” said a 30-year-old Afghan businessman who gave only his first name, Faryal.
“Every day it’s snowing. We need someone to look after us here,” added 19-year-old Fares Moharraq from Syria. He said he left his town because of threats posed by ISIS fighters.
“I’d heard stories about ISIS when I was back in Damascus. When ISIS came to my town, ISIS was the most important thing to talk about and that’s how they got people.”
He said his family was frightened because “ISIS was in front of us.”
Smashing music, smoking hash brownies and wandering aimlessly
What is more shocking, however, is the words of many of the men who take part in what the camp provides: young and old, most of them migrants from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Iraq.
Although there is no shortage of gravitas here, much is taboo. “What do you think of England?” one man asked one of the few Englishman who stopped and spoke to us.
A Syrian refugee looks out into the freezing sea on the French coast. Credit: via Video/William Verhagen
“This is no life,” said Nouri Habibi, a 33-year-old Lebanese, who fled Syria with his family, including two children, three years ago. “These are no nice people. It’s a good time to stop being British,” he said, pausing before speaking.
Asked why he wanted to go to England, he began to laugh. “I don’t understand why, because it is a country with many problems in my country. It’s like here, only better.”
Asked if he would look to act on his ambition, he said: “There are a lot of drugs everywhere here. I don’t want drugs.”
His reply wasn’t far off Britain’s policy on drugs: as part of its response to the catastrophic methamphetamine epidemic, it has cracked down on illegal dealers in a shocking way, proposing measures that resemble the death penalty on dealers in Africa, in order to deter people.
Corby Kilpatrick, from the Migrant Workers Rights Network, was working in Dunkirk when CNN got there and said the question is more of “what do you want to do with your life?” than about “do you want to go or stay?”
Not far from the camp was a makeshift store selling cigarettes, cold rolls, bread and the plastic bottles of illicit medicines. Some helped themselves to the bottles, waving a neatly-wrapped, legal, but clearly inedible, packet of Stolichnaya at one another.
But others appeared to like the taste. “The pills are better in Syria,” one man told us.
Unwelcome road ahead?
If the question of wanting to go abroad isn’t new, the mood has hardened in the camp. Several migrants from Arabic speaking countries such as Syria and Iraq are eager to leave.
“They’ll give you a second chance but then you have to go,” said Fares Moharraq.
Many of the remaining migrants have faced repeated rejection when applying for asylum, and some are worried that Germany, now the largest destination for migrants, has closed its borders.
An Ethiopian man, aged around 25, said he is desperate to get out. “My family is in Beirut. I don’t want to stay there. When I came here, people said, ‘Come back in a year.’ My family is here and I’m wondering, maybe I can go back. Maybe they will give me a chance.”