Pelagie Couroyer has just graduated in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh. These five images come from her dissertation – Horizons of Hope – which is based on ethnographic fieldwork carried amongst refugees during the summer 2019.

Fig.1 Maps of the Channel and the camps of Ouistreham and Calais, drawing by author  

Fig.2 Gendarmes clearing the ‘new jungle’, photographs by author  

Fig.3 “For all my darlings,” drawing by author  

Fig.4 Facebook posts from the 16/07/19 (Grande-Synthe) and 11/07/19 (Calais), drawing and translation by author  

Fig.5. In Coquelles’ tribunal (CRA) – video screen and back of the accused, drawing by author 

“‘Horizons of Hope’ aims to challenge the assumptions that surround the figure of the refugee and reveal more layers to our understanding of power in the assemblages that constitute the informal camps of Northern France (see fig.1).

I consider refugees’ agency in the face of state violence and the forms of life they take on in order to reach their British Dream. In Calais, where the bare act of living is impeded by repeating evictions (fig.2), refugees actively distance themselves from the condition imposed to them. 

After the eviction pictured in fig.2, a group of refugees returned to the cleared camp with flowers (fig.3), presenting a human face where they had only been received with violence. The space of the informal camps was contested by authorities and refugees but also humanitarian volunteers. 

In the Grande-Synthe camp, the police burnt down tents in which refugees had stocked up food, literally reducing to ashes humanitarian provision (fig.4). Around the same time, the local council also blocked access to one of the distribution points in Calais (fig.4). As police and humanitarians fought over spatial and moral grounds, the refugees’ hope to cross heightened. From the French coast, refugees watch over the horizon for a paradise called ‘UK.’ 

Stuck on their long journey, they are hardly passive to their situation, but have been prescribed marginality by the French state and start to experience humanitarian compassion fatigue. Ultimately, they have been labelled as illegal and as the formation of CRAs (detention centres, fig.5) remind us, their freedom of movement has been taken from them.