Counting the number of migrants in the Calais ‘jungle’

31 August 2016
What was claimed

There are around 9,000 people living in the Calais migrant camp. In June there were around 4,480.

Our verdict

The official estimate is that there are around 6,900 people in the camp, though local charities have counted around 9,100. Charities have suggested that different counting methods and migrants’ reluctance to speak to authorities may be behind the difference.

"A census put the Jungle population at 4,480 in June but aid workers estimate it is home to at least 9,100 now with hundreds more arriving each week.”

Daily Express, 24 August 2016

“The notorious 'Jungle' camp in Calais has exploded in size and is now home to over 9,000 migrants.”

Mirror, 18 August 2016

How many people are living in the Calais migrant camp? It turns out the answer isn’t simple.

Estimates from charities put the population of the camp at around 9,000, while the local authorities say it’s around 7,000 people. Both agree at least that the camp’s population has increased by around 50% since June.

The figure of 9,000 has been reported by a number of news outlets.

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Charities say there are around 9,100 people in the camp, including children

9,106 migrants were living in the Calais camp at the beginning of August, according to a census conducted by the British and French charities Help Refugees and L’Auberge des Migrants.

We spoke to Help Refugees which provided us with its figures. In June the charity put the number of migrants in the camp at 6,123.

Official figures for the camp’s population are lower

Local authorities claim that there were 6,901 migrants in the Calais camp on the 17th August, about a week after the charities’ figures were collected.

There were 4,486 migrants in the camp in June, according to these estimates. This is the figure the Express has quoted.

Local authorities also point out that the number of migrants in the camp increased last summer too. By October 2015 there were around 6,000 people in the camp, but this had fallen to 3,700 by February.

Why do the counts differ?

We worked with our French factchecking counterparts, Libération: Désintox, who contacted the local authorities in Calais.

They were told that the authorities take an aerial photograph of the camp a few days before the count and divide it into grids.

A team of 25 border police officers then checks the grids, going to each shelter and asking how many people live there, including anyone not present at the time. In August, the whole count lasted five hours.

The local authorities said they couldn’t comment on why their figure is different from the number of people counted by the charities. They do say that their system of counting is “precise and exhaustive”.

Help Refugees told us that its volunteers and translators go to each structure and ask how many people live there, making sure to visually count how many sleeping bags and beds are in each structure too. They also ask other questions about migrants’ history, health and how long they’ve been in Europe. They then mark the shelter so that it isn’t counted twice.

Help Refugees described its system as “the most thorough estimate there is of the camp’s population.” It also suggested that its figure might be different from the local authorities because migrants in the camp were afraid to tell border police how many people lived in their shelter and were more prepared to tell the charities as they took longer to conduct their census.

Part of the camp was dismantled

In February 2016 French courts granted authorities permission to dismantle an area of the camp where up to 1,000 migrants were thought to be living, according to the authorities. Other estimates put the figure at 3,500.

This was widely covered in the media at the time, along with reports of clashes between migrants, activists and the authorities.

The French government had provided alternative shelter for migrants in heated containers which housed 1,500 people and offered women and children accommodation in a separate centre. That said, MPs raised concerns about whether or not the new facilities would provide accommodation for all of the people who had lived in the demolished portion of the camp.

The UK and French governments have taken a number of steps since

In August 2015 the UK Home Office and its French counterpart issued a joint statement on the situation in Calais.

The agreement announced, among other things, that the two governments would step up their existing scheme of several monthly flights which return migrants from Calais to their home country.

The UK Border Force also works within the camp to provide information to migrants about life in the UK and what this can be like without the correct immigration status.

There is also a “fast track [asylum] process” in place which allows migrants to claim asylum in France and leave the camp.

94 centres across France have been set up to provide emergency accommodation for migrants, whether or not they plan to claim asylum. According to the UN’s Refugee Agency, 2,431 migrants went to one of these centres between October 2015 and February 2016.

In July, the UK government has also said that around 5,000 people have left the Calais camp and taken up the option of alternative accommodation and support from the French government since last autumn.

We’ve written more about the migrants and asylum seekers travelling to the UK and Europe here.


Image courtesy of jpellgen

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