France > United Kingdom

The big Afghan jungle is invaded by police every other morning. So is the Kurdish one. The Sudanese jungle outside of town was recently completely destroyed again, and most of the Albanians occupying the derelict hotel have been deported. Three-dozen East African women at 51 Boulevard Victor Hugo are mulling their eviction notices. Whether in tent cities, urban squats or public parks, undocumented immigrants are unwelcome in Calais, France.

At least 72,000 people illegally entered the EU in 2012, according to the European Union’s supranational security force, Frontex, and many defer the paperwork that might legitimize them as refugees in continental Europe in order to push through the port of Calais toward the UK, one of the top three asylum-granting countries in Europe and, significantly, the only English-speaking one, where religious freedom is also said to be greater. While Italy with its Africa-facing shores is thought to hold about 461,000 undocumented migrants; wealthy Germany 457,000; and France, 400,000; the United Kingdom, according to the most recent study (2008), unwittingly hosts about 900,000 undocumented migrants: one of every four in the EU.

To join them, Calais’ sans-papiers loiter in the parking lots of highway rest stops. When a UK-bound truck begins to accelerate en route to the cross-Channel ferry, they sprint alongside, looking for an opportunity to hurl themselves into the undercarriage, risking death for a ride. But only a few kilometers further at border control, UK Border Agency employees have been transplanted onto French soil with orders to cut migrants off: checking trucks, collecting stowaways in a carpeted common cell, and handing out processed-meat sandwiches, fruit and juice boxes before gently refusing refuge. Some will be shipped for processing somewhere else in the EU. For the rest, it’s back into the jungle until the next dash toward permanent shelter.



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New arrivals among the 400,000 Somalis living in camps in Dadaab, Kenya, wait an average of 34 days before receiving basic shelter from the United Nations. Until then, they improvise, sticking thin branches into the ground, tying the ends together to form a bell shape, and covering the structure with plastic.


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In 2013, Swedish company Ikea – famous for its ready-to-assemble furniture – developed a solar-powered, temperature-controlled, plastic flat-pack hut for refugees. It takes four hours to set up and can stand in place for three years, which makes it unpopular with governments keen to keep refugees on the move.

C89 08 z diy temp shelters 427304147 717f9deff0 o ellen wallaceINUIT IGLOO, CANADA

Cut hard-packed snow into large blocks, and layer rings of blocks one on top of the other, gradually tilting the walls towards the center until they meet. In warmer climates, Inuit replace igloos with huts of caribou pelts or sealskin stretched over the rib bones of whales.


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It takes two men 48 hours to build a bubble house as designed by American architect Wallace Neff in the 1940s: inflate a huge balloon, then spray it with gunite, a substance twice as strong as concrete. Difficult to furnish due their rounded walls, bubble houses quickly went out of fashion, but 1,200 still stand in Dakar, Senegal.


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It takes just two hours to set up the self-supporting wooden frame of a Mongolian ger, insulate it with wool felt and tie down its canvas cover. Gers are traditionally for nomads, but at least two in three people in Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, live in cramped ger slums.


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By February 2014, 915,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Lebanon, a country of 4.5 million people. The Lebanese government is reluctant to build official camps, fearing that they will become permanent, so refugees have been building their own shelters from roadside billboards and advertising banners.