Notes from the Calais ‘Jungle’ – How can WE help?
The ‘Jungle’ migrant camp in Calais was recorded as being home to well over 10,000 people, a vast patchwork of people from the world over seeking a better life. As we are faced with an escalating number of disturbing images coming out of Syria as well as well as the camp being dismantled, we need a narrative of hope more than ever. As members of the public, it is so hard to know what we can do on a practical level to help. I urge you to read these words written by my friend, Helen Allen, and share them. Because this is practical action and it does make a difference.
Helen Allen is a Homeopath, working locally but also in Calais in the ‘Jungle’ and previously in Africa. She is mother to two beautiful daughters. She has recently been told she is ‘an activist’ and she’s ok with that; seeing that direct action is the only way at times to connect and make a difference. She loves to read and to walk in her local countryside with her kids and hear her husband sing; they love festivals and live music. She enjoys a blessed life and has become more aware of this of late with her involvement with displaced people in need of asylum.
There is as much to be celebrated here as there is to feel desperate; this place where somehow, through endless acts of humanity, a shifting demographic of up to 10,000 people have survived, on the brink of life at times; with no way forward and certainly no way back. With no proper sanitation, no infrastructure, no formal medical care, just a few portable toilets and a handful of standpipes. It is because of volunteers and direct action that they have had food and clothes and shelter. There are no big charities here and the trauma and hell of this place hits you hard as soon as you arrive.
In a different time and in another context, it could be seen as an incredible story of resilience tolerance and community. Here, Sudanese, Afghani, Eritrean. Syrian, Somali and Kurdish women men and children ‘live’ in a weird upcycled tapestry of makeshift huts tents and tarpaulin shelters. Here, you could be anywhere, as you hear Farsi, Arabic, Pashto, Dari, French and then the lilting sounds of predominantly British volunteers. Here, where churches and places of worship have been built with wooden pallets and scrap metal, where the call to prayer lives somehow alongside the gospel choir coming from the Christian church. Where music rises above and somehow a beautiful album is produced.
People with a heart donate old army tents and yurts and fleets of vehicles bringing endless life-saving aid come every single day. Teachers come and make a school out of nothing and give their time to the kids, unwanted caravans are towed over or under the Channel to house families, or become first aid points run by volunteer medics. People come and chop kilos of vegetables every day to make the endless dahl to feed thousands… “We are just trying to make hell a bit more bearable” a volunteer says. The most common gesture I see is people holding their heart and nodding compassionately. “We are where we are,” the burned out, long-term volunteers mantra. Nothing is certain and everything is temporary. This is not the place to unpick all that that has been witnessed and I can see it in the haunted eyes that seem to be everywhere. Especially the children.
Here, chopping onions and garlic, I meet some of the young people who are now somehow etched on my psyche and in my heart forever. A child of 14 who lost his family in the chaos of the Syrian border. He hasn’t seen them in over a year and has no idea if they are alive or dead. Still, he stayed for a while on the Greek shores helping the medics to translate. I often think how he must have watched the horizon and longed to see them being hauled to safety off one of the boats. We chop more onions and talk about our favourite music.
A 12 year old who becomes our translator when we go to camp with natural medicine. His brother made it to the UK in a truck. He is now in the camp alone. He is polite, respectful. He has a stutter and a nervous tic, I am not surprised; I cannot begin to imagine what he has seen and experienced. We give him some fresh fruit and he immediately hands it out to the younger kids. I had to turn away and compose myself at that point.
Children play football on the south part of the camp that was bulldozed in February, and for a moment it looks pretty normal…until you see the line of CRS security vans on the perimeter of the camp… they use tear gas regularly.
We took our daughters to the camp in the summer. They were greeted with smiles and welcomes. Chai and food. They could not understand why people are living in these conditions in France.
The entire camp of 10,000 will be demolished imminently and the French Government has said it will process claims for asylum and deport anyone who is not eligible; the exact plan is not yet clear but we do know that a considerable number of people in the camp have reunification rights to be in the UK , of which over 300 are children. So far the UK government has not taken in any children under the DUBS amendment that was passed earlier this year.
After the last demolition in the Calais camp 129 CHILDREN WENT MISSING. You can help keep them safe and in contact with volunteers that they trust by topping up their phones
Or by texting CALA85 to 70070
You can express your solidarity by signing here.
You can donate to this link to provide sleeping bags rucksacks and emergency food.
Thank you so much Helen for sharing these words with us. People reading this: please, don’t just flick on to the next website. Share this post on all your social media sites, donate and tell people about this. This could so easily be us in this situation.
My second novel, The Girl and the Sunbird, is now available. Please click here to take a look at the reviews.
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