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Thousands Of Migrants Make Risky Journey From Calais, France, To U.K.


In big red letters, the signs on security fences warn do not add to recent deaths, but each night, hundreds of migrants risk their lives in the French port city of Calais. They sneak under the barbed wire fences and try to jump on to trucks being loaded onto trains and the trains themselves, heading through the tunnel that connects France with England. Thousands of migrants are living in makeshift camps in Calais. Maya Konforti is with the humanitarian group L'Auberge des Migrants, which has been helping to feed and clothe the migrants there. And, Maya, are the numbers growing? Are you seeing these camps swell all the time?

MAYA KONFORTI: Yes, they are higher than last year. Right now, we have about 2,500 refugees in one camp - only one camp anymore - that the migrants call the jungle.

BLOCK: That term, the jungle, gives you a sense of what the conditions must be like in this camp. Describe what you see when you go there.

KONFORTI: It's 40 acres large, and you see tents that are broken down because it's a very windy place. You see makeshift huts with pieces of wood that the refugees cuts and covered with black plastic that we provide. It's actually not a camp. It's a slum. It's a government-tolerated slum, and they said to the refugees, you will be tolerated on that place. That doesn't mean you are accepted. That means if we decide one day we don't want you there, then you won't be tolerated anymore, so we'll evacuate you.

BLOCK: When you talk to the migrants who are in these camps, what do they tell you about what has driven them there and where they hope to be?

KONFORTI: What drove all of them out of their countries is either a dictator or war for the Syrians, dictator for the Eritreans. For Afghanistan and Pakistan, it's the Taliban and just impossibility to live safely in their countries. So they took months and they spent thousands of dollars coming to Europe, and they risked their lives many times. And so they arrive in Calais, and they're still having to risk their lives to cross the channel, which is only 30 kilometers from their dream.

BLOCK: There are a number of migrants who have died trying to get onto vehicles going through the tunnel. What have you heard about just what's happened with them and how people who are in the camp are reacting to that?

KONFORTI: Well, you know, really, in the last seven weeks, we've had 10 deaths in the tunnel or around the tunnel. This is a very high number for Calais because last year, there were only 15 deaths in one year. The migrants - they're in shock when they see that happening, but it's not the first time they see death around. But they feel like it's one more time they have to risk their life in order to go to the U.K.

And it's not really stopping them because people don't realize that most of the people who are in Calais or who come to Europe are not poor people. They had to find money to come to Europe, so they're more middle class and sometimes even upper class. We have Syrian doctors, Syrian pharmacists, lawyers, teachers. So they will tell you, when I lived in my country, I had a real house. Look what I live in now. And they cannot believe that they arrive in Europe and have to stay in such conditions.

BLOCK: Are the people in Calais getting tired of having these growing numbers of migrants in their city? Is there are a not-in-my-backyard sentiment among the people in town?

KONFORTI: Definitely. Some people are not happy about it. But, you know, we - all of us, as Europeans, need to understand, you know, that this is a phenomenon that is not about to end. And we need to learn to find ways to integrate it.

BLOCK: That's Maya Konforti. She's with the humanitarian group L'Auberge des Migrants in the French city of Calais. Miss Konforti, thanks so much for talking with us.

KONFORTI: You're very welcome, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.