I was a regular visitor to the woodlands along Rue des Garennes, in Calais, from 2006 to 2010. In this period I photographed the shelters built here by illegal migrants. Locally known as the the Jungle, the place was a base camp from which they hoped to sneak across the Channel and into the UK. In 2009, the French police evicted an estimated 1,500 occupants from the woodland encampment. This action failed to stem the stream of arriving migrants, which continued however on a reduced scale. By summer 2014, the woods on Rue des Garennes were once again filling up with makeshift dwellings. The stream of refugees reaching Europe from early 2015 onwards visibly added to the growing Jungle population.
In March 2015, the inhabitants of the Jungle were forcibly evicted from their encampment in the woods. They were allocated a new site just outside the Calais ring road where their presence would be tolerated. Presumably this location was a strategic choice, for the police had a clear view over the camp and could close off the access roads whenever they saw fit. The inhabitants of the “old” Jungle felt that they had been corralled into a prison.
Despite the scorching desert heat, I was amazed to find little garden plots complete with garden ornaments all over the Choucha refugee camp when I visited it in Tunisia in 2011. I also witnessed how inhabitants personalized the standard tents provided by UNHCR. They would cut into the tent fabric in order to increase the height or to add on an entrance awning. Strangely, the public relations officer who guided me around the camp had never noticed these expressions of individuality. He seemed fixated on the victimhood of the camp inhabitants and was completely oblivious to the signs of their resistance to that stigma. Aware of probably being fated to a long stay in the camp, the inhabitants felt a need to distinguish themselves from the monotonous official surroundings. These little gardens were expressions of resistance to bureaucratically imposed victimhood.
The mainly Sudanese camp dwellers in Choucha bought seedlings in nearby villages and planted them in the desert sand of the camp. They used an ingenious system for irrigating their crops. Plastic water bottles would be filled with a mix of sand and water and thrust upside-down into the soil, so as to gradually dispense the moisture the plants needed to survive in the desert heat. They told me that it was a technique that they had learned in their Sudanese homeland. Many of the men I met in the camp had fled in the preceding years from Darfur, a province inhabited principally by nomadic tribes.
I was engaged in a reportage project on the earthquake-struck north of Pakistan in 2005 when I first noticed a newly planted micro-garden in a refugee camp. The sight of something as prosaic as that in such a chaotic situation was unexpected and moving. The existence of these tiny gardens changed my view of refugees: I began to see the residents as resilient survivors instead of as victims. It was with this outlook that I began my study of the refugee problems in Calais from 2006 onwards.
My new book rooted is ready to ship. For more information about this book you can visit my website www.Rooted.nu
Urban farming in Lianzhou, China, December 2018
It was not until 2016 that little gardens like these started to appear outside the makeshift huts and tents in the “Jungle”. The arrival of thousands of migrants in 2015 had provoked stringent security measures in Calais harbour. It became clear to the camp residents that their stay in the French seaport of Calais would last longer than planned. By planting little gardens in this unwelcoming setting, the migrants in the sand dunes seemed to be striving to reconcile themselves with the situation. They used plants to create a gentler, more domestic atmosphere. The impersonality of the unofficial camp was diminished and the camp dwellers literally began to put down roots in foreign soil.
The moment we throw away our waste, it is no longer waste but a valuable raw material for the waste processing companies. We, consumers are an important part of collecting and separating these materials. Without our, free, labor, waste would be difficult to be a profitable trade. Many of these commodities are traded on the world market. In January 2018 China closed its borders for waste plastic from Europe. They no longer needed this raw material because they produce enough waste plastic for their own needs.
In 2014, I tried to map out in assigement for the Amsterdam’s City archives what is happening in my city around the processing of my waste.
When war broke out in Syria in 2013, Brahim and his family fled from Daraa to the Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan, on the Syrian border. Brahim noticed that people in the camp enjoyed being surrounded by plants and flowers. He saw a way to make money, and together with his father opened a small flower and plant shop in the camp. So far, the little shop has done well. The best-selling plants are trees, because they will provide shade in the future. He also sells lots of gardenias. His personal favourite is the rose, because of its lovely fragrance.
Until the 25th feb 2017 you can visit my exhibition Defiant Gardens in the Circle Gallery in Amsterdam. This year I will finish this project and hopefully publish a new book about it.
In the Italian/French border town Ventimiglia hundreds of undocumented immigrants try to crosse the boarder with Franse. For me as a European citizen the borders look open as always, but for them its a hard border to crosse. French police is stopping ever “strange” looking person in a radius of 20 kilometers around the border and ask for documents. If they don’t have any they are send back to the Italian border. In december 2016 the Italian border police collected these returns, every day in a bus. When the bus was full they where transported back to the south of Italy. Far away from the French border. Back to the start.. almost a cynical game.
I made this work in assignment for the French ngo Medecines du Monde.
Ville de calais won the Arles Prix du Livre 2017. Robin and I are very honored and proud to win this prestiges prize.