“ISIL are not Muslims,” she said. “Muslims don’t kill. The Koran never teaches to kill.”
This sentiment was shared yesterday when about 200 people gathered in the camp’s activities tent to hold a vigil for the victims of the Paris attacks. Camp residents of all nationalities met, holding hands in two circles for three minutes of silence before participants were given the floor to express themselves.
“There were mostly messages of peace and hope, but there were also a lot of apologies from Muslim members of the community,” said Abby Evans, who runs the Hands International vaccinations clinic next door and attended the vigil.
“They weren’t apologizing for themselves,” said Joe Murphy, whose Good Chance theater helped organize the commemoration. “They really wanted to stress that ‘we are not those people — this is not Islam.’”
The concern is not without warrant. France has seen a rising anti-Islamic sentiment since last January’s attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and at a kosher grocery store, which killed 17. There were three times as many anti-Islamic acts recorded in France in 2015 as in the previous year, according to the French National Observatory Against Islamophobia. It said that since Friday’s attacks, there have been 116 anti-Muslim attacks in France.
The French government has led divisive debates on national identity and passed laws against wearing headscarves and other religious symbols that have left many in the nearly 5-million-strong Muslim community feeling like outsiders.
And far right groups in France — and other European nations — are already looking to capitalize on Friday’s events. National Front leader Marine Le Pen said during a press conference on Saturday that it was “essential that France recover the control of its national borders once and for all” and called for stricter measures on immigration.
“France must ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques and kick out foreigners who are preaching hatred on our soil as well as illegal immigrants who have nothing to do here,” she added.
News that a passport belonging to a Syrian asylum seeker was found next to one of three suicide bombers at the scene of the Stade de France attack has helped fan the flames. On Saturday a Greek minister confirmed that the name on the passport matched a man who traveled through the island of Leros on Oct. 3 before passing through Serbia and Italy. While it remains unclear as to whether person listed on the passport is the same as the man implicated in the Paris attack, some see this as further proof that France should close its borders to the flood of refugees.
Some residents of the town of Calais are critical of the EU’s open-door policy to refugees. “This whole idea of opening the borders is a very big problem,” said Michel Leman, who said life in Calais has worsened since the number of refugees in the town increased. “We should at least have more checks to keep out people who don’t belong here.”
He had no problem believing reports that one of the Paris attackers could have passed through several countries before arriving in France.
Alexandra, a volunteer with the Auberge des Migrants organization who asked to be identified by only her first name, said, “When we heard about these attacks, we were immediately worried that people were going to start saying that these terrorists passed through Calais [refugee camp] on their journey.”
Already, the camp, referred to by some locals and outsiders as the Jungle, has been a target for suspicion. On Friday evening, a major fire ripped through a portion of the camp, turning temporary homes into a pile of burned mattress springs. Some claimed the fire, which hit at approximately the same time as the Paris attacks, was started by radicals in the camp.
French politician Eric Ciotti, a member of Nicolas Sarkozy’s Les Républicains party in the National Assembly, afterward called for the camp to be cleared, adding that “the risk is now that of guerrilla warfare gradually infiltrating this lawless slum.”
Alexandra said those rumors are untrue. “I went with the people who were responsible for this fire to the prefecture to help them give their testimony,” she said. “They admitted that they had left a candle burning and gone to sleep. With the wind, it caught fire very easily.”
Calais has made headlines in recent weeks for increased altercations with police. While in April there were few or no police monitoring the camp, local authorities have bolstered security in recent months to a now 750-strong police force. The constant presence of CRS officers — France’s riot control force — has created a palpable tension in the camp.
On Sunday near the vigil commemorating the Paris attacks, dozens of refugees clashed with police, who launched tear gas into the crowd. Because of a massive traffic jam on a nearby road, some took their chances — in broad daylight — to try to hop in or under trucks and cars to cross into the U.K., causing momentary chaos. Last week a similar incident ended with police firing nearly 300 tear gas grenades to push refugees back, according to a police spokesman.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Michel Leman as Philippe Péchon.