Guest post: "At the Jungle refugee camp, the desperation is palpable"
On her return from the makeshift refugee camp in Calais, Remi Olajoyegbe says there are many practical ways to help the thousands of people who are desperate
Coach and social entrepreneur
Posted on: Mon 30-Nov-15 16:53:08
(49 comments )
The UN has deemed the Jungle one of the worst refugee camps it has seen. We knew this before we arrived, but that didn't prepare us for the day-to-day realities of life in the camp.
Last week, three friends and I set off to Calais with a car packed with donations and good intentions and a whole lot of love. We felt inspired by a friend's shelter building project A Home For Winter and traveled with a very deep desire to help.
We arrived on 'women's day'. Once a week the women in the encampment can go to a temporary tented structure which is the unofficial women's centre. There, they can queue for a time-allocated ticket, which they can use to get clean clothes for themselves and their children.
The volunteers recently devised this ticket system so that everyone gets a chance to 'shop'. It maintains the calm, which greatly reduces the risk of riots. The desperate and bitterly cold conditions would rouse panic in most of us, so you can imagine how anxious people feel when they see the clothes truck arrive each week, worried that there may not be enough to go round.
We worked with an amazing independent long-term volunteer, Liz, on the distribution of female clothes. I spent the first two hours fighting back tears while I cuddled and played with the children, many now orphans. I issued tickets as I chatted to women from Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and beyond, my constant internal reprimand "be strong" - after all, what did I have to cry about? Mima, who was seven months pregnant, shuffled patiently in line and rubbed her stomach with a circular caress - not even a murmur of complaint. Her face beamed at me when it was her turn to get a ticket. I wanted to cry, and cry hard.
Conditions at the camp are constantly evolving. Volunteers managing distribution have to be flexible in order to respond to an individual's changing circumstances. They offer a 'Personal Shopping Service'. Of course, it's a far cry from the department stores where a smartly dressed attendant trips over you and the finery for sale. Here, tents are collapsing from months of over-population and saturation from the rain, blown over by the freezing winds that whip through the open wasteland, burnt down by fires from the candles that are the only source of light.
Ongoing financial donations are hugely important. However, temporary volunteers also have a positive impact; building shelters and sorting and distributing the physical donations is a never-ending job.
People's worldly belongings are regularly ruined by mud, leaks, fires and heavy rains. The Emergency Provisions Service, as I have renamed it, is constantly having to respond to urgent requests for dry bedding, tents, clothes, and shoes and food.
Before we part company with Liz, she counts out pairs of tweezers, combs and nail polishes as she tells us about 'pamper day', another weekly initiative for the women. "Mental health is very much on the decline here. People feel increasingly hopeless, so we try to provide some semblance of normality, relief from their dire day-to-day existence."
Liz must now find food for the six hungry orphaned boys clambering around her. The eldest looks no older than 12. They jostle her affectionately, proudly using the few words of English she’s taught them. "They're brilliant lads" she says, "and they're just about surviving in this shithole - they've been left here to rot, no future, no education."
Our next task is to help another set of amazing volunteers build two insulated shelters. When we were finished a man called Atif could move his sick wife and child out of his heavily mud-stained tent and into their new home - an insulated box with a waterproof roof and a door that locked. By comparison it was palatial. But building this shelter is only a drop in the ocean of the work that needs to be done.
There were so many inspiring stories that both touched and broke our hearts in our Calais. Approximately 7,000 people are living in the Jungle, and the number continues to rise. The number of women and children has quadrupled in recent weeks. But the French government will not declare this an emergency humanitarian crisis, meaning that big charities cannot access the area.
So who is doing what? And how can you help?
The main charities on the ground are:
L’Auberge des migrants
Ongoing financial donations are hugely important. However, temporary volunteers also have a positive impact; building shelters and sorting and distributing the physical donations is a never-ending job, so they desperately need hands.
Even if you can only offer a day, visit Help Refugees or email them (Calaisaid@gmail.com). Via the Eurotunnel, our journey cost us £80, which we split, and only took us 2.5 hours from London by car to get there.
My group, Oona Chaplin, Scott Murden and Jennifer Richardson will be returning on 8 December and we are taking a van load of friends to work all day and sing at the Good Chance Calais theatre in the camp that night. It's a space aiming to bring together the voices of refugees and help them be heard.
There is also currently an acute shortage of the following basics:
Torches with batteries, or wind up lamps
New underwear – pants for men and women and bra-tops, small and medium sizes
Waterproof shoes - male target size is 42/43 (UK 8/9) , female range size 34-40 (UK 2-7)
Blankets and sleeping bags
It's hard to imagine the desperation that strikes for things we take for granted, but in the Jungle it's palpable. Please help.
By Remi Olajoyegbe
Maybe put the sizes wanted in UK sizes? I have no idea what a 34-40 is.
Try google juneau, it's easy to find out this information.
I've often wondered about the women and children as its all young men you see trying to get into trucks.
This is awful, what has happened after the huge groundswell of outrage and positive action in the summer? How are people still abandoned like this?
Nobody wanted women's and children's clothing for ages, kos kindness and Calais organisations said don't send anything yet, so I held on, do they now want them?
I was wondering what the current situation was. Now its fallen off the headlines those poor people will struggle even more. One of my twitter 'mates' is out in Greece helping the boats at the moment. It's still going on and it's getting colder.
My point is not that I am unable to google, but that if you want people to donate you should make it easy for them. Tell them what is needed in UK sizes, not European ones that nothing to most of us in the UK.
The current focus is the list of items I include. They do need new born stuff as there are a few a babies due, frankly one is enough, but they are asking for new or pristine things so the mothers can have special things for their babies. Thanks
Sorry to be thick but if we have clothing to donate or shoes etc, where do we take them? Or send them?
I have loads of tiny baby clothes, nursing bras and some mens shoes that I would be very happy to donate but I can't find where it tells you what to do with them.
The Uk sizes are included in brackets () so hopefully hat helps.
Hi, thanks sounds great - the link to helprefugees.org.uk is in the article text and if you email the address in the article someone will get back to you too. imagine having a baby in those conditions - Good luck and thank you.
Op, please put full details here and make it easy for people to help, or they won't bother.
Thanks, sorry to quibble but there is nothing on the help refugees site about donating clothes or shoes? Only cash which I think many people can't spare so easily.
this post conflicts with other information I've been reading elsewhere which explicitly says don't donate goods because there aren't the resources to distribute them and what they need is cash.
I don't understand why they're desperate to leave France. Do they have some rose-tinted view of how life is better here? Surely it's not that different, except that English is spoken.
I gather people smugglers sell a false journey and lifestyle.
Absolutely... hence we need to keep up the pressure and keep raising awareness of how dire their circumstances are and how people will die on our doorstep this winter if nothing is done.
BiscuitMillionaire The majority go these people have come to France looking for some respite from their horrific realities - fleeing war torn countries and extremist regimes. They have got to france, with considerable hardship and challenges, many have died along the way - now they are there, living in a wasteland of sewage, grime, no sanitation, not hot water and little food. I wouldn't call it France I would call it a no-mans land where thousands of innocent people have been left, almost forgotten about.
There's nothing rose tinted about this, life is better here that where they are at, fact. I'd certainly be desperate to leave if that was my lot, and yet they are doing their best to survive, to make it work, to build community and retain hope.
They are also terrified of the French police- who are violent and abusive to them. There are traumatised children being teargassed in the camp. It is devastating and shocking that this is happening here in 2015
megletthesecond agree, thank you - it's key we keep this issue it on people's radars, especially as we move into winter. Gosh, that must be such a tough job for your friend. pls do let me know his / her twitter handle
They do have a lot of clothing donations already, the items I list are the things they are really desperate for, in addition to cash, they need these items in great quantities and they have reiterated the importance of them.
I trust this guidance as it is coming form longterm volunteers on the ground who are providing emergency provisions every day.
I return to calais next week and we are only taking torches with batteries, pants, water proof shoes and blankets as we've been guided.
If there are any further updates I will of course post them here - thank you
Temporary name change.
There is also Care4Calais.
I'm also a volunteer and have worked in Calais, I'll be going out again soon.
Please please don't just collect random clothes and send them on. It takes a lot of time for volunteers to sort them out in Calais when they could be delivering the aid. Instead, send it carefully sorted. So for example if you wanted to send mens coats then only send men's coats and sort them into sizing and if you can thick or thin.
When donating, think what would I need if I were camping in a ripped tent in gale force winds in freezing temperatures surrounded by mud and rubbish? Perhaps injured and unwell. So many of the donations, though very very kind don't fit the bill. Shoes need to be walking boots, or really good trainers for instance - not office shoes. Trousers need to be jobbing bottoms, or jeans at a push, not smart! This is in part why donations of cash are asked for. It is also asked for because they desperately desperately need firewood and good quality sturdy tents.
The Calais camp does tend to be dominated by men, though there are families, there tends to be much more stock available to them. In Dunkirk there are many more families.
It is only a small fraction of the refugee population that are in Europe that want to come to England. Some it is because they speak English, others have family or friends over here. still others have found themselves there and now don't know what to do. They feel trapped.
I cant echo enough how absolutely dire the conditions are there. They are the most horrifying conditions I have seen. We have to look at their needs as human beings, rather than thinking that a small piece of sea gives us some special absolution. Whether you think they should be there are not, they fact is, they are and they live in desperate conditions.
The easiest way to learn how to help is through the facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/CalaisMigrantSolidarityActionFromUK/ There are loads of links on how to help and a flow chart for volunteering.
So glad that these posts are on here. And am a bit shocked that on a reasonably politically aware site there has been so little about this human rights travesty happening on our doorstep. That is not a criticism of the site just a sad observation about the lack of public impact this seems to have.
I have however seen reference on thread to worry about 'migrants' interfereing with eurotunnel travel plans...
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