CALAIS, France — He was walking alone, to a place that no longer exists.
These days, Baz — a 25-year-old Afghan who has been in Calais for 20 months, he said — could use a place to sleep. Not so long ago, he had one: a tent in the “Jungle” encampment, where nearly 10,000 migrants and refugees from the Middle East and East Africa languished for months, even years, in hopes of eventually reaching Britain, a short 20 miles across the English Channel.
But in late October, the French government — after a devastating sequence of terrorist attacks and the spike in anti-immigrant rhetoric that followed — demolished the camp. The migrants there were either transported to “welcome centers” throughout France or simply evicted from the makeshift city that teemed with smugglers and violence.
In any case, the Jungle is gone, and Baz — like so many other migrants still here — now sleeps on the streets.
The end of the camp was not the end of the migrant crisis in France, and hundreds more have continued to trickle into this working-class city on the shores of northern France, which remains the closest point in continental Europe to Britain. If no longer in the headlines, the problem is no less urgent, aid workers say, insisting that conditions for newcomers have never been worse.
“This!” Baz, who declined to give his surname, said recently, gesturing at the asphalt on a road near the old entrance to the Jungle, far outside of town. “This! This is where you sleep.”
“We are literally trying to get drinking water to people. We don’t have water, we don’t have food — and no sanitation,” said Clare Moseley, the founder of Care4Calais, an aid organization active throughout France. “There’s skin disease, gum disease. It really, really is the absolute basics of life here.”
“When we were in the Jungle, we were trying to get clothes to people and even some kinds of social care. It really was a step up from where we are now.”
Since the Jungle, major elections have come and gone in France and Britain, whose border with the European Union’s Schengen zone begins at the French coast.
In France, despite the victory of the centrist, pro-migrant Emmanuel Macron over the fiercely anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen last month, little has happened to suggest any immediate change in policy toward migrants seeking either temporary residence or asylum.
“The duty of Europe is to offer asylum to those who are persecuted and ask for its protection,” Macron’s campaign platform read. “In this context, France must take its fair share in the reception of refugees. It must issue permits to all those whom it deems entitled to asylum in its territory.”
But last week, Gérard Collomb, Macron’s interior minister, authorized the transfer of three extra police squadrons to the Calais region. In an interview with the Le Parisien newspaper, Collomb said that the transfer would amount to roughly 150 additional officers and gendarmes.
“Our priority,” Collomb said, “is that Calais and Dunkirk do not remain places of fixation and that ‘Jungles’ do not reconstitute.”
In Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May narrowly survived her own snap election recently, Brexit will still mean Brexit, and strict immigration regulations for migrants and refugees are unlikely to be reconsidered anytime soon.
Unlike many of the migrants now here, Baz is a legal adult. Approximately 150 of the 400 new migrants who have recently arrived in the Calais area are unaccompanied minors, Moseley said.
After the destruction of the Jungle, there is no longer a central gathering place for these younger migrants, who have begun to seek refuge in odd locations throughout the city.
Two of them, for instance, were huddled on a recent evening under a covered drive-in outside a Pizza Hut in central Calais. Customers came in and out, paying the two boys little notice. Pizza deliveries proceeded; cars passing through the nearby roundabout drove by.
“Calais people don’t like refugees,” said Kiya Rabbira, 16, from Ethiopia, one of these refugees. He was sitting with his friend, Fiiri Nanaki, 15, also from Ethiopia. “They’re always calling the police, and they never give us food. They see us sleeping here, and say, ‘don’t sleep here — go.’ ”
This was never supposed to happen.
In the fall, leading up to the Jungle’s demolition, the U.K. government pledged to take in a host of unaccompanied minors. Already nominally committed to the Dublin III agreement, a European Union regulation allowing the resettlement of refugee children in member states where they have family, the government vowed to do more.
Last year, the British Parliament approved an amendment to an immigration bill that also permitted the resettlement of unaccompanied minors with no family in Britain. Sponsored by Alf Dubs, a member of the House of Lords, the “Dubs amendment” harked back to one of the proudest moments in modern British history, when the United Kingdom — in convoys known as “Kindertransports” — sheltered Jewish children from Nazi persecution in central Europe in the late 1930s.
Dubs, now 84, was one of those children.
In the months since, however, the United Kingdom has reneged on its commitment, largely because the final text of the new amendment mandated no specific number of unaccompanied minors to admit, Dubs said in an interview.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to tack a number on it, so the government could go back on the amendment,” he said. “We simply said they had to do it, never thinking they would cut it short like that.”
Calais is a historic stronghold of the National Front, the far-right, anti-immigrant and populist party that lost the French presidential election but is vying to represent the area in France’s upcoming legislative elections. Le Pen, who lost the Elysée Palace to Macron last month, is ultimately running for a seat in Parliament here. She has a decent chance of winning, as she carried the area in both rounds of the presidential election.
In recent years — mostly thanks to the Jungle — Calais and its environs have developed a particular reputation for a certain xenophobia, with migrants frequently complaining of vigilante reprisals from ordinary citizens. Recently immortalized in the pages of “The End of Eddy,” the best-selling novel of the 24-year-old Édouard Louis, much of northeastern France is a predominantly white and working-class terrain, as resentful of change as it is of the Parisian elite.
In the season of France’s upcoming legislative elections, appealing to this demographic appears to be a motivation for Macron’s cabinet.
“I had the opportunity to speak with local elected officials,” Collomb told Le Parisien. “I heard their concerns, and I want to tell the people of all these territories that they are not forgotten.”
But the migrants here often find these promises sinister, mostly in terms of an increased police presence.
“Kicking, dogs, spray,” Rabbira said, when asked to describe his encounters with the local police.
“There’s a problem with the police here — they spray you,” Baz said, acting out a forceful kick.
Calais City Hall did not respond to repeated requests for comment.