Debunked: Photo of migrants 'picknicking in Calais cemetery' proven fake


Some images keep popping up again and again on social networks. That’s the case with this picture, which shows several men sitting on tombs. It was shared more than 24,000 times after it was published on Facebook last week. The caption on the picture says these men are migrants, and that they were picnicking in a cemetery in Calais, home to France’s biggest migrant camp. But this image is old – it already appeared on Twitter more than a year ago. And it has nothing to do with Calais….

The photo captures an unlikely scene. In the foreground, several men can be seen sitting and even lounging on tombs. They are surrounded by an array of backpacks and carrier bags like those often carried by migrants and refugees. Behind the men, women and children sit amongst the tombstones. Further back still, a row of police officers stand at attention, seemingly keeping watch over the group of people.

The inscriptions on the gravestones are illegible and the uniforms worn by the police officers are hard to make out. Indeed, there are no details that make it easy to identify where the photo was taken. Unfortunately, that has made it all too easy for people the use photo to pursue their own agendas.

On September 16, the photo was shared on Facebook by a person clearly angry at what he thought the photo represented. In the caption, he complained bitterly that no television stations had reported on the picnics that migrants were apparently having in a cemetery in Calais. The caption was also rife with Islamophobic statements like: "Just try picnicking on a Muslim tomb in an Arab country and see if someone doesn’t slit your throat."

Screengrab of a Facebook post on September 16, 2016.


All in all, more than 24,000 Facebook users fell for the story and shared the image without taking the time to verify if it actually showed what this person claimed it did. However, it’s actually pretty easy to investigate the photo and to find out just how wrong that Facebook post was.


A quick Google Images search...

Google Images is easy to use. All you have to do is click on the camera icon and upload the photo in question (or you can just upload the URL of the image.) Google then runs a search for all the times that this photo was published online.

A Google Images search showed that this photo was already published on Twitter a while back… in September 2015, to be precise.

(Read also: How to verify photos and videos on social media networks)

If you search for the photo, you also come across an article written in January 2016 by a French site called “Debunkers de Hoax”, which specialises in debunking hoaxes and fake images shared online. The team at Debunkers found out that the photo is actually from a report about a camp for migrants and refugees set up in a cemetery in faraway Serbia.


A makeshift camp on the Serbia-Croatia border

The photo was taken on September 22, 2015, near Sid, a town on the border between Serbia and Croatia. At the time, many media outlets reported on what happened. On that day alone, no less than 9,000 refugees and migrants entered Croatia, which was a record for the country. On the Serbian side of the border, authorities in the town of Sid were overwhelmed by the numbers of people. With nowhere else to go, dozens of refugees – primarily Syrians – waited at the cemetary until they were allowed to cross.

This incident took place in the context of tensions between Croatia and Serbia. Croatia had accused Serbia and Hungary of directing all migrants and refugees towards its border.