It was 9am on a Friday morning in the Calais refugee camp known as The Jungle. The sun was up, but the sprawling camp was eerily quiet – most refugees were still sleeping after another night of cat-and-mouse with police as they attempt to reach Britain.
My colleague Teun Voeten and I were filming a documentary for Dutch TV. I had just pressed ‘record’ on my camera when I heard Teun cry out for help.
I swung around, still filming, to see three young refugees in hoodies viciously push him to the ground at the side of a tent. I rushed towards him but on my left I heard a hiss – pepper spray aimed at my eyes.
From my right – and just in time – I glimpsed a knife coming towards me. I kicked and lost my balance, my camera almost sliding off my shoulder. Teun shouted out. I tried to regain my balance and again was hit with pepper spray.
You might have seen the attack – my video footage went round the world. Fortunately, two African refugees rushed to our aid.
For a couple of seconds, our muggers seemed confused. I looked at their faces and noticed their eyes were glassy and hollow – heroin and crystal meth are rife in the camp – before they ran off, dropping Teun’s snatched notebook when they realised it was not a wallet.
At the time, the attack seemed to go on for ages. But when I played back the video, it took only 45 seconds. We posted the footage on YouTube and within hours it went viral, attracting more than 600,000 viewers and being picked up by TV news channels.
The film evoked a wild array of responses from both sides of the immigration debate. We were accused of being Right-wing, ‘pro-Muslim Lefties’, rank incompetents and even hoaxers.
But we are far from naive amateurs. Teun has spent 25 years working in conflict zones and we had been filming in Calais for months.
Since September, when we began our project, we have both noticed a huge deterioration in the camp, with increased disease, drug-taking, overcrowding and violence.
Our documentary, Calais: Welcome To The Jungle, aims to give an accurate reflection of the good, the bad and the ugly – and we certainly found plenty of the latter.
The Jungle is a filthy, anarchic slum, expanding uncontrollably on the edge on an industrial zone, misery as far as the eye can see.
During our time there, we saw that tension and violence were dramatically increasing – a toxic state of affairs made worse by the increasing presence of drugs.
Two weeks before we were attacked, a Narcotics Anonymous volunteer from London told me crystal meth and heroin use in The Jungle were on the rise. Perhaps that explains the aggression and sheer audacity of our attackers.
And there is another factor, too: the growing number of British anarchists living among the refugees. They say they have come to advise and show solidarity, although that solidarity clearly does not extend to sleeping in tents – they have their own caravans.
They pretend to represent some sort of European ‘moral conscience’ and represent all Calais migrants and the principle of freedom of movement – that is to say, movement into Britain. The truth, though, is that they are bent on spreading tension in The Jungle – and violence.
The main group is the predominantly British No Borders Network. They even have a website, though how they expect the denizens of the Jungle to see it is unclear. It is full of declarations using radical Marxist rhetoric to rail at ‘the enemy’ – the authorities, the people of Calais and journalists who do not subscribe to their radical agenda.
This originally published in the Daily Mail. Read the rest here.