Welcome to 'The Jungle' - We've got fun and games

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.





Hi Alex, how are you? Sorry to have missed your visit- just back an hour ago after an intense week + in Berlin.
Very curious to hear about your experiences and reflections. In part because I would like to volunteer this spring but am unsure as to where I can meaningfully put my skills etc to use. In part because both Ezio and myself are adamant that this should be one of thd focal points in opencare

Hey Nadia,
Shame not to see you as well. I’m sure i can fit aother visit in when you’re around.
Sorry this story isn’t filled in properly yet, i’ve basically been writing massive proceedural documents for the camp people which has taken a lot of my time.
I think i’m about half way through the full write up, so all things being well it should be on the site tonight. Fingers crossed

Looking forward :slight_smile:
See you thursday in the call btw.

What about the refugees themselves?

This is a great story! What it seems to have to teach is this: refugee camps could sprout many more and better services if people were allowed to provide for each other. Score one for self organization.
However, from what I read I have the impression that this is a story about the volunteers. It is them (you!) doing all this amazing stuff. Are refugees themselvesd involved in building and staffing these services and efforts?

Some of the facilities and services on camp are staffed and operated my residents of the camps. Both the Ashram Kitchen (link above) and the Jungle books use people from the camps to organise (cook, clean, serve, staff etc) their operations. Some parts of it a situated in specific areas of the camp and the people who live close to those amenities operate as security and safety overnight.
It’s very much a case that the residents are very active on site. Whenever organisations start to build additional shelters, or do maintenance/repairs the locals get heavily involved. At the moment we aren’t allowed to bring large-scale building material onto the site so resourceful communities and individuals are doing a lot of self building using scavenged wood and tarpualin/waterproof fabrics. There are lots of skilled people on the camps, some of them have been engineers, large scale construction workers so us volunteers are always happy to bring equipment, hand it out and then stand back and let the professionals handle the work.
It is probably true to say that there aren’t any refugee-led projects on site, or if there are, i am not aware of them yet. It’s certainly something i could find out more about by asking around.
My view is that most people living on the camp consider it to be a temporary pit stop before they get to the UK (even if it’s ‘temporary’ for 9 months or more) and so aren’t keen on setting up services long term on the camp when they could be in a lorry tomorrow night heading to Britain. Longer term residents who are more settled in the camp and are looked at as community leaders do a lot more than i am aware of, but in order to find out more about what they were doing to support each other it would be really benefitial to have a few translators who could have more detailled conversations with them. It’s those guys who are the real heroes of the story. The volunteer workforce are just smiling, friendly couriers really.

Got it!
Very clear, thanks @Alex_Levene.

It’s so sad to see that there is no way to move beyond that. And yet you hear stories like this school built by a Nigerian: Meet the man who built a school for migrants in the Calais 'Jungle' - BBC News It’s probably fragile and temporary though (if still there), but good example.

similar approach and initiatives have been taken in Greece, by many solidarity groups, which try to avoid any connection and dependence from state and formal NGOs, trying to distinct between solidarity and charity, A very crucial factor on this issue is the participation of the refugees (or other groups supported).

Totally agree with this. The situation in Calais has the added edge that most of the aid agencies operating there are UK based charities, but they are working in France. There is a need to try to work alongside local authorities (or be seen to) because we are ‘outsiders/foreigners’ and ‘interfering’
Keeping the refugees in the community as a central part of the planning and decision making is a core part of the management though.
Many of us wish there could be a better, more permanent way of dealing with this situation. But right now getting either the French or UK governments to actually accept that these people are not just going to disappear into the air, well, that’s almost impossible.