Reflections on the Calais Jungle

With the demolition of Calais Jungle set to start in just a few days (if the statements from French authorities are put into action1), we thought it was about time we let you know a bit more about the camp.

Our volunteering there was brief owing to the need to send our passports to the Ghanaian embassy in preparation for our impending move to Ghana. With less time to get to know the surroundings and be creative in working to meet specific needs, we focused our attention on donating and distributing aid – working with the charity Care4Calais2 who run warehousing and essential aid distribution alongside some great advocacy efforts from their longer-term team.

Volunteer meeting at the Care4Calais warehouse - photograph by Julia Johnson at www.lensculture.com/julia-johnson

Break time at the Care4Calais warehouse. Photograph by Julia Johnson www.lensculture.com/julia-johnson

Calais is so close to home yet its refugee and migrant settlement, currently housing an estimated 10,000 people, is like a completely different world.

Here are just 3 things that struck me during our time there:

  • Bad living conditions will have long-term effects
    We have all seen pictures of the camp, flooded and cold. We saw that flooding happen – within 10 minutes of a heavy rain shower, water was rising and gushing into tents with nowhere to drain away. But the bad conditions are worse than I realised. The settlement is on an old asbestos dumping ground, meaning that residents’ future health could be seriously affected even after they have (hopefully!) been able to settle elsewhere.
  • Donor fatigue is real
    We used the remainder of the money you all kindly donated to our fundraiser to deliver items to Calais. We set off from London with a car loaded full of rice, tinned tomatoes, tea and toiletries. That one full car, however, was just a small drop of what is needed when NGOs are trying to feed 10,000+ people. The sense of donor fatigue and diminishing resources was a real worry for those I spoke to.

    A car full of donations for Calais

    A car’s worth of donations for Calais

  • There are so many fences but no end in sight
    Fences surround the sprawling camp – not just one fence, but a slightly smaller fence, followed by a gap filled with razor wire, followed by a bigger fence. And then, because that’s not solved the problem, the UK Government and French authorities are working together to build a big wall. The real issue though is that there is no sense of a true solution for this place. The French Government wants to move everyone on, but people don’t want to go, and the demolitions are unlikely to change that. Not because the Jungle is a good place to be, but because leaving for many seems like giving up on any hope.

    The fences of Calais Jungle, photograph by MalachyBrowne (Flickr)

    The fences of Calais Jungle. Photograph by Malachy Browne (Flickr)

If you can donate anything to support those in the Calais camp please do. A list of priority items needed3 is kept up to date by Care4Calais and includes rucksacks to enable individuals to move their belongings if they need to. Or you could donate a small amount to top up the credit of an unaccompanied minors’ phone 4, helping them to keep in touch with family and friends if they are displaced during the upheaval.

Whether or not the camp is cleared, the people there are in for a long wait for a secure home and support will continue to be needed until that happens.