English Channel Stowaways { 24 images } Created 4 Jan 2012

For decades Northern France has been a stop gap for migrants and refugees from every continent, all on their way to England. Their numbers in France are rising. With the approach of the 2012 Olympics French Police are stripping roadside vegetation and raiding squats, reducing the chance of migrants ambushing cars and trucks on the way to the port, forcing them to live away from the world's eyes. Still hundreds make their way across UK boarders every month, adding to debates on English cultural diversity, job markets and globalisation.

At migrant feeding centres hundreds of male faces flinch away from the sea wind. They huddle together in continental bands, crouched on the cold floor they pick through plastic trays of cooked rice. All are thin, their faces lined with fatigue. Breath mists in the cold and everyone hunkers into sparse clothing. Most are still wearing the clothes they fled in, suit shoes and trousers, worn sports gear, luggage lost or stolen along the way.

Middle Easterners tell stories of war zone escape and Eastern Europeans say there's no work in their country. A rumour circulates that Taliban dissenters eat here, a man with three fingers missing and more who aren't afraid to pull knives. Human traffickers circle the town like vultures, and French skinhead gangs leer at non caucasians. Most migrants have picked up criminal convictions as they duck and dive, bob and weave their way through the underworld.

There are no families, every face represents a broken home. The feeling of loss weighs heavy on hunched shoulders. Some risk their lives clinging to the axles of goods vehicles, others break into cargo lorries or bribe gangs that control the entrance to the Channel Tunnel, and attempt to chase down high speed trains. Desperation grows. Eventually migrants fling themselves at midnight border crossings, attempting to reunite with family in England. Every week the bodies of more forgotten souls are washed up on the shore, stabbed or drowned.
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