CALAIS, France — Migrants and refugees waiting by the French side of the English Channel say Brexit hasn’t derailed their determination to cross over to pursue better lives in Britain.
Mingled alongside police officers in the French port of Calais, hundreds of people live in squalid conditions and watch for a boat or truck to carry them to their dreams as stowaways.
Many of them came to Calais from former French colonies such as Ivory Coast and Niger, only to have their asylum requests rejected by French authorities.
The northern French city, laced with high fences and a wall, is the place in France closest to Britain. There are two regular cross-Channel transportation routes from Calais that draw migrants, the Eurotunnel and ferries to Dover, England.
A desire to curtail immigration played a role in the U.K.’s 2016 vote to pull out of the European Union, which guarantees EU citizens the right to live and work in any of the member countries.
Brexit taking effect late Friday doesn’t appear so far to have dented the will of the desperate people from outside Europe who made it to Calais to make an end run into Britain. They bide their time playing soccer and keep warm by building small fires.
“For us, (Brexit) doesn’t change anything,” a man from Ivory Coast said. “We are still living this (dire situation) with the same desire to get to England because France does not want us. We are sick of that.”
The man would not give his name because he feared it might hurt his chance to seek asylum.
A migrant from Gambia who would not give his name for the same reason expressed his anguish by singing a reggae song he composed with the lyrics, “Living in this jungle, yeah, living in this jungle yeah, we don’t have nowhere to go and nowhere to stay.”
At one point, thousands of refugees and migrants congregated in Calais, assembling a huge makeshift camp dubbed “The Jungle.” French authorities eventually cleared and closed it. Neither repeated sweeps nor increased security in the area has stopped the flow of people.
“The situation is pretty bad here, It always has been. I personally don’t think anything will change,” said Clare Moseley of the non-governmental organization Care 4 Calais.
“The things they are fleeing from are worse than anything that can happen here,” Moseley added.
So Brexit or not, migrants still wait and hope that at some point they will ride a lucky opportunity across the expanse of water, although chances are slim.
French border police and maritime officials patrol northern France by land, sea and air, combing beaches, dunes and coastal waters to catch the increasing number of people attempting to get across the Channel in small boats.
Britain has pressured France to do more to stop those attempting the dangerous trip and financed a renewed deterrence operation over a year ago.