Sadar Vali sits beside his friend Wali Khan in the refugee camp known as “The Jungle” in Calais, France, on May 10. (Mary Turner/Getty Images)

In late August, Clare Moseley was skimming newspapers online when she saw an article in the Daily Mail on refugees drowning in the Mediterranean.

It was followed by angry online comments calling for the British military to eradicate the thousands of migrants still stranded in northern France and seeking to cross the English Channel. In tears, the 46-year-old former Deloitte accountant did more than post a reply: She moved to Calais, leaving behind her home, her career and her husband in Liverpool, England.

“It was a complete knee-jerk reaction to an emergency, but I just felt like it was massively, massively needed, and so I did it,” said Moseley.

As anti-immigrant sentiment rises in Britain just one month before the referendum on its membership in the European Union — a vote commonly known as “Brexit” — Moseley is one of many British volunteers who have quietly assembled on the shores of northern France to help where they can.

Eight months later, she is still here, living alone in a modest one-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of the city and running an organization called Care4Calais, which distributes food and clothing to migrants and refugees living in conditions that even the French government has called “undignified.”

How Europe is punishing migrants

“As much as you close your eyes, it doesn’t stop the world around you from existing,” said Hettie Colquhoun, 24. Originally from Somerset, England, she has also moved to Calais, where she works for the French and British charities Auberge des Migrants and Help Refugees.

Like Moseley, Colquhoun has been in northern France for nearly a year.

The camps in northern France — Calais’s “Jungle” foremost, but also those in nearby Dunkirk and Grande-Synthe — have joined the front lines of Europe’s largest migrant crisis since the upheavals of 1945.

Thousands of migrants — no one knows exactly how many — live here in largely undocumented squalor. More arrive every day.

Peter Martin, 21, is pursuing a master’s degree in classics at Cambridge University. One of many British millennials involved in the camps, he organized a university-wide student association that leads weekend trips for U.K. students to work in Calais and Dunkirk.

“No one knows what to do with the millions of people who have moved across the world,” he said. “But in the meantime, we can make sure that they have clothes, food, shelter and water — that seems to be an easy thing we can all agree on, even if we can’t all agree about how many to take or where to put them.”

Refugees and migrants from Afghanistan walk toward their tents in Calais, France, on May 10. (Mary Turner/Getty Images)

“I realized I had a capacity to make a difference,” said Colquhoun. “And it’s just across the water from me — it’s just so, so close.”

Twenty miles from the coast of southern England, these makeshift settlements — teeming with tents and campers — are mostly holding pens for those who believe that safety and prosperity await them in a Britain increasingly reluctant to welcome refugees.

There are similar enclosures in nearly every country along the most common migrant route — from Greece, through the Balkans, and into Western Europe. But what distinguishes the northern French camps is that they are somehow beyond the rule of law, zones that are largely unregulated and ignored by local authorities, save for occasional demolitions.

In Germany, for instance, the government carefully filters refugees and migrants at borders to determine which of them are eligible for asylum. In France, by contrast, there is little oversight and hardly any documentation of who is living where — and in what conditions.

Local police, for instance, do not regularly patrol inside Calais’s “Jungle,” and national sanitation standards do not apply. In fact, two French non-governmental associations took the local authorities to court in the fall after finding traces of E. coli bacteria in the water supply. A judge then ordered the authorities to address these conditions.

But when the local Calais government — ostensibly in the name of improving conditions — ordered the destruction of a particularly crowded section of the Jungle in March, it merely created a scenario in which most of the evicted migrants ended up in a smaller area than before. Crowding remains a problem.

Calais authorities did not respond to requests for comment.

In that void, it is ultimately volunteers and non-governmental organizations that have built what little infrastructure exists in the camps today: the temporary clinics, the schoolhouses, the libraries. They provide the food, distribute the medicine and teach the algebra to the children.

As contemporary Britain faces an unprecedented moment of self-definition, many of the British volunteers cite as motivation the vision of a society whose essence is diversity and whose true nature is humanity.

“People forget that what makes Britain Britain is multiculturalism,” said Colquhoun. “Our flag is a testament to that. Our language is a testament [to] that.”

“I was brought up reading books about the Second World War,” Moseley said. “My grandparents fought through it, and my mum and dad remember it as children.”

“You wonder, if I was put somewhere, how would I judge myself? Everybody has to decide where they want to be.”

Moseley and others frequently invoke the memory of Kindertransport, the British-sponsored convoys of some 10,000 Jewish children from central Europe in the years before the Holocaust.

One survivor of those transports, Lord Alf Dubs, 83, recently sponsored an amendment to a British immigration bill that would likewise bring in 3,000 unaccompanied migrant children from Europe. Despite initial opposition, the amendment passed.

“The facts are all here,” Moseley said. “There are people in trouble, but we are refusing to help them. This is not an earthquake, this is not a tidal wave — this is a solvable problem.”

But as she acknowledged: “I’m a very black-and-white person. I don’t do gray areas.”

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