Northern France has been a hub of migration for more than two decades. This stretch of the continental coast is only 20 miles from the United Kingdom, the desired destination of many migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers who wish to resettle there due to language familiarity, job prospects, and family ties. For those who have travelled to northern France from places like Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Syria, the UK seems just one step away. In fact, an ever-growing security apparatus makes the crossing challenging and dangerous, leaving an estimated 10,000 people waiting for their chance to continue moving.
Migrants have developed makeshift camps in the area, notably Calais’s “Jungle” and Dunkirk’s “La Linière.” These temporary stopovers have transformed into long-term, informal settlements, combinations of self-organized shelters and humanitarian interventions. They exemplify the squats found throughout migration routes.
MapFugees, a group of humanitarian mappers of which I’m a part, works in the Jungle and La Linière to visualize experiences along these routes and facilitates participatory mapping of the two camps. We help refugees present their spatial perspectives of continuously changing settings in order to improve wayfinding, services, and aid delivery.
STOPOVERS AND DEAD ENDS
Migrations, like those experienced by the inhabitants of the Jungle and La Linière, are involuntary and unforeseeable. Migrants are often uncertain where they will finally resettle, and each journey is marked by stops and makeshift dwellings as borders, war zones, authorities, exhaustion, and disease force travelers to take refuge. Short-term stopovers can turn into hopeless dead ends; those on the move may find themselves stuck in unknown and sometimes hostile environments they cannot relate to, incapable and unwilling to adjust to the living conditions. They feel robbed of the chance to reach their desired destinations, and in a confined refugee camp, this feeling becomes a grim reality. If detained, holding centers provide neither shelter nor protection—they are refugee prisons.
To help refugees process and share their experiences, MapFugees takes camp residents through story-mapping exercises. Through hand-drawing maps of their migrations, refugees describe their stories. The activity is an outlet through which they may express the drastic emotions and inextinguishable memories of the journey; it is a means to present their perspectives when others won’t listen. A Pakistani teenager’s route included a “very, very, very bad” eight months of jail in Turkey, as well as tough conditions in the Balkans. A Sudanese doctor explained his preference for traveling through Libya rather than Egypt—the second option requires GPS tools and 14 days on the Mediterranean—and attributed his safe journey to traffickers and a “brave heart.” A man from Afghanistan felt that there was humanity and freedom along the UNHCR safety corridor from Greece to Germany but that the Jungle is “dangerous.”
CAMP NAVIGATION AND FINDING DIRECTIONS
In addition to story mapping, MapFugees facilitates participatory mapping through which migrants in the Jungle and La Linière determine, define, and analyze their present surroundings. Mappers record their perspectives and observations, which do not necessarily align with those of humanitarian organizations and official authorities. As active residents of these camps, they create detailed maps of infrastructure, services, and public spaces; their multilingual cartographies enable more effective aid work and provide visual tools for new arrivals. Further, collaborating with the community, setting goals, determining deadlines, and seeing their products in use can help migrants reactivate unused skills and resources. In this way, participants may regain a sense of self-reliance and autonomy.
Their maps of the Jungle and La Linière are particularly revealing in regard to the camps’ architectures. Constructed settlements appear more stable, protected, and calculable, but they are limited in space and offer few opportunities for residents to engage. Makeshift camps organically develop according to residents’ needs; they involve self-realization and grassroots structures, but they lack security, stability, and access to services. Accordingly, we’ve observed that constructed settlements appeal to families, women, seniors, and those with health problems, while the makeshift camps appeal to young and middle-aged single men.
MapFugees will next explore places of resettlement in host countries. In many ways, leaving a camp after a prolonged residence is yet another displacement, and in new host countries, migrants find themselves in strange environments without any orientation, access to navigation tools, or social affiliation. Newcomers struggle to find directions to basic services like health facilities, legal advice centers, or communal spaces. In collaboration with settled and newly arrived refugees, we intend to put these places on the map, giving migrants the skills and tools to understand and navigate their new environments.