Muslims to the left, Christians to the right: Feuding faiths, nations coexist in Calais camp

Each Friday, a Sunni muezzin calls Muslims to prayer through a bullhorn. On Sundays, Pentecostal Africans raise their hands to the heavens while those of the Orthodox faith prostrate themselves before a painting of a winged saint overpowering Lucifer.

Faiths abound in the migrant camp at Calais, whose approximately 6,000 residents brighten their often bleak existence by attending religious services organized in tents and shacks. In so doing, they have set aside ethnic and religious enmities that often fuel bloodshed in their homelands.

"We are all God's children in the Jungle," said Solomon Gatachow, the Ethiopian who oversees the Orthodox church, using the migrants' preferred name for their camp. "Muslims helped to build our church. We are neighbors here. We all must respect each other's religion."

His St. Michael's Jungle Church is the biggest migrant-built structure in the camp, with a cross-topped tower and paintings by Ethiopian and Eritrean artists. Arriving worshippers kiss the cross symbol at the entrance gate and the wooden post beside the front door. Those going inside leave their mud-caked shoes and sandals outside. Most sit on benches ringing the church and follow the service via loudspeaker.

A few minutes' walk away, members of east Africa's Pentecostal movement sing, clap hands and offer their troubles to Jesus for five hours straight in a tent christened the Life in Christ Church. The visiting London preacher, Selomon Goiton, switches effortlessly among the Tigrinya, Amharic and English languages to ensure all understand his message of hope and salvation. The service's epic length proves too much for the sputtering diesel generator powering the microphone and keyboard, but nothing stops the guitarist and djembe drummer.

Muslims hold Friday prayers in at least eight tents catering to Sunni and Shiite Arabic speakers, many with specific national affiliations, including Afghan and Sudanese. Oriental prayer carpets and shelves stacked with Qurans of many colors provide the only ornamentation. Tents fill to capacity, leaving many outside to bow toward Mecca taking care to place prayer mats over the rocky, often muddy paths.

Each house of worship keeps its distance in the sprawling shantytown. Via the camp's main junction, Christian churches can be found to the right, most mosques to the left.


Of related interest: "Seeking Home: Life inside the Calais Migrant Camp" — a 360-degree, virtual reality video documents the Calais camp. For Google Cardboard-compatible or 360 video: or download the Ryot VR app: