Background to the story
To those of us in the UK the Calais ‘Jungle’ has become synonymous with the migration and asylum crisis that has occurred in Europe over the past 2 years. It is frequently in our papers and on our televisions, yet beyond the UK and the direct environment of Calais the Calais camp has not received the kind of attention it deserves.
‘The Jungle’, as it has become known, is a large camp on the edge of the Calais port area. It sits on top of a series of sand dunes, small lakes and wastelands on the very edge of the French coastline, right by the lorry parking area at the port. Before it was settled it was an industrial dumping ground, and previous checks of the ground have found traces of heavy metallic elements like Cobalt, as well as large amounts of old asbestos panelling that had broken down.
On top of all this sits a huge camp for migrants and displaced people from around the world. At last count it stood at around 4900 people, most of whom are trying to claim asylum in the UK.
At it’s largest point shortly after Christmas the camp had over 6000 residents. Living in very harsh, cold conditions through the Northern Europe winter.
Originally the camp was made up of tents and very temporary structures. But from around September last year a number of new charity organisations and volunteer structures made it their plans to help improve the quality of the camp [http://www.ahomeforwinter.org/].
The camp is largely made up of young men, although there are small numbers of families, women and young children as well as around 350 unaccompanied children between the age of 12-16. A number of organisations sprang up that work with the women and children on site, provided youth clubs, teaching and English lessons. [http://www.calaidipedia.co.uk/camp-initiatives] [http://www.calaisjungleyouth.com/]
The camp has grown up, physically and mentally, over the last 5 years, but has really become a focal point since around 2012. The camp has grown hugely during this time, as well as moving around from site to site.
Alongside the humanitarian and social aid there are library and reading services [http://www.calaidipedia.co.uk/jungle-books-library], theatre and arts activities [http://goodchance.org.uk/], community kitchens [https://www.facebook.com/OneSpiritAshramKitchen/][https://www.facebook.com/The-Belgian-Kitchen-1736739086546935/], hot food distribution, dry food goods distribution and daily clothing distributions provided from a central warehouse [http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/], amongst many others [http://time.com/4233206/calais-jungle-shops/].
You can find out more about a numbers of the organisations that work on the site by visiting [http://www.calaidipedia.co.uk/breaking-news] or by reading the No Borders document [https://welcometocalais.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/welcome-to-calais-booklet_eng_updatedoct15.pdf]
Although MSF, GWB and Unicef run services on the site, and have provided some care to the camps the site itself is not officially recognised by the French or UK governments, and as such has no requirements to meet basic human rights, or follow local building or health and safety guidelines.
As a result, no single government or NGO organisation has responsibility for the activities and structures on camp. Everything that has grown up has happened through self-organisation, communication and collaboration between new and existing charities both French-based and in the UK.
Increasingly we are seeing aid, and charities from further afield in Europe coming to Calais to help, creating a multi-national series of solutions that have grown up without any direct hierarchy or guidance.
In March the French prefecture with the support of the CRS cleared the oldest, largest section of the camp in the south. The intention was to rehouse all of the residents in to a number of local official options; including the La Vie Active container camp [http://julesferry.vieactive.fr/]; the brand new official refugee camp in Dunkirk [http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/12186407/Frances-first-ever-internationally-recognised-refugee-camp-opens-near-Dunkirk.html] or into asylum/detention camps around France.
The majority of residents in the camp chose to not take these options as they are not looking to seek asylum in France, but are trying to get to the UK to reconnect with families. This disconnect between what the French authorities want to achieve with the residents and what the residents themselves want to achieve goes a long way toward explaining the conflict and central problem at the camp.
About what i have been doing
For the past 3 weeks I have been working as a volunteer through the central warehouse, L’Auberge des migrants.
L’Auberge acts as the central aid and food distribution services for the camps across Northern France, including Calais, Dunkirk and a number of smaller camps around the area.
L’Auberge exists solely on donations, providing daily hot food deliveries, daily dry food deliveries to allow residents to cook for themselves, clothing drops, and since my arrival a mobile distribution service that goes from shelter to shelter, assessing individual and community needs and providing aid in the form of blankets, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, lights and a number of other personal items.
All of these services are coordinated by long to medium term volunteers, who spend their own money and time to care for the people on camp without receiving any direct pay. Sometimes fundraised money is spent to provide accommodation and travel expenses to volunteers but a large majority of people live out here entirely on the own funds.
The warehouse was initially set up by a French charity but is now run and ‘staffed’ by a UK charity HelpRefugees [http://www.helprefugees.org.uk/what-we-do/], who bring in funding and support from around the EU to help provide humanitarian services.
TO BE CONTINUED…