On July 23rd 2015, at the exit of the Eurotunnel in Folkestone, British police found the body of a young man lying on top of a train, his face damaged beyond recognition. The body lay on a slab in the coroner’s office, known only as Unknown Male 1, for three weeks, before it was finally identified.
This series of photographs were taken after I became involved in the quest to find out the identity of Unknown Male 1. After listening to the testimony of a young Sudanese man, Mohammad, describing the last known movements of his missing best friend, Husham Osman Alziber, I crept inside their tent and looked around: five distinct places to sleep, a Koran carefully wrapped in a plastic bag hanging from the ceiling, candles, clothing, playing cards. And in the middle, still neatly made, with a small dent in the folded sleeping bag that he had used for a pillow, Husham’s bed.
This week, in a mission to clear large sections of the Calais ‘Jungle’, French authorities will bulldoze much of the site and the mosques, church and tented homes like Hosam’s will be destroyed. Up to 1000 refugees will be forced to move into purpose built containers resembling a prison or be ‘relocated’ around France.
In the subsequent weeks after Husham was identified as that unknown young man, I crawled in and out of dozens of homes just like his, searching for those tiny pieces of our shared humanity inside Calais’ vast tented city. As I explained my curious mission to a series of young refugees, they brought me tea, shared their food and told me of their lives and hopes for the future.
There are no people in these photographs but their voices are everywhere. They are grubby and bleak because that is the reality of what life is like there. But each one bears the hallmark of its owner, something tangible and personal of those who have left been forced to leave everything behind on their journeys.
To each man or woman behind the faceless ‘exodus’ and ‘swarm’ these things are important, theirs, a place of safety after their long and brutal journeys. Husham’s friends knew it as they waited for him to return home, and so they kept his neatly made bed just in case, as he left it, still bearing the fading imprint of his young life.