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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 29-Feb-16 13:28:42

Guest post: "These are the lost children of Europe"

As the French government plans to clear part of the Calais Jungle camp, a volunteer describes conditions for the children living there

Volunteer

Calais and Dunkirk

Posted on: Mon 29-Feb-16 13:28:42

(180 comments )

Lead photo

"I am not looking at politics, I am looking at people."

At last count, 423 unaccompanied children were living in the Jungle camp in Calais.

I have spoken with a number of them on my trips in recent months. Many had reached the camp by themselves; they had been orphaned, separated en route, or sent away by their parents who had paid traffickers. Some I talked to were as young as ten.

These are some of the lost children of Europe; officially, they don't exist.
On Friday, the French government's plan to clear part of the Jungle was approved by the courts. While authorities say around 1000 people will be affected, aid agencies put the figure far higher.

Volunteers in the makeshift women and children's centre in the camp do their best to look after the unaccompanied minors, but there are no NGOs working with them. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has not contacted the centre and neither have government officials.

Conditions in the camp are harsh. I cannot imagine my teen living there. It is cold and wet; the only thing keeping people fed and clothed adequately is the huge volunteer effort. I saw little children playing in waste pits contaminated with industrial waste and human excrement. Sickness spreads quickly through the camp - a measles outbreak was only just averted because Médecins Sans Frontières moved swiftly to run a vaccination programme.

Conditions in the camp are harsh. It is cold and wet; the only thing keeping people fed and clothed adequately is the huge volunteer effort. Sickness spreads quickly.


There are frequently clashes between the CRS riot police and a small number of frustrated migrants. They throw stones; the CRS retaliate with tear gas and rubber bullets fired far into the camp. The tear gas floats amongst the family tents, choking the sleeping inhabitants at night. In the Calais Jungle, it seems that human rights do not apply. However, the camp does offer a degree of protection that will now disappear as a result of the eviction order issued to the southern half of the camp. The fear is that they will disperse into many smaller camps across northern France.

I thought Calais was terrible. Then I went to Dunkirk. The camp at Grand Synthe is a living hell. Around 2500 people live there, including many families with young children and small babies. No structures are allowed; tents and wooden pallets have to be snuck in. The mud is indescribable, thick and Somme-like. Inside the tents we saw children sleeping on pallets slowly sinking into the swamp.

In Dunkirk, I helped in a little school for the afternoon. It sees around 30-40 children each week. It consists of an army-type tent, open at the ends, and a floor made of pallets that float on top of the mud. Everything is covered with a layer of dirt. Paper gets damp too quickly and it is impossible to look after resources there, so the small number of amazing teachers who run it - I met British and French people - have to rely on their ingenuity and resilience. The children were wonderful; I was helping six year olds learn their numbers. In all of that mud, damp and cold, wrapped up in coats, chests rattling from infections, they still smiled and laughed and tried to teach me Kurdish.

There is some hope for the Dunkirk children. A new camp is being built by Médecins Sans Frontières. For those who are able to move to it, the conditions will be much better. The Brighton Build shelter project, Hummingbird project and Brighton Bridge are working together to create a new school and family centre in the camp, which you can support here.

This is the humanitarian side of this crisis, which must be acknowledged. I am not looking at politics, I am looking at people – and they need our help.

By Volunteer

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exLtEveDallas Mon 29-Feb-16 16:11:46

You paint a sad and scary picture OP. I've seen a video today of the camps being tear-gassed...As someone who has a lot of experience of CS gas I can confirm how painful and terrifying it is...and how exactly will the victims, the CHILD victims access the clean water needed to counter the effects? Unbelievable sad

Thank you for highlighting this.

unlucky83 Mon 29-Feb-16 16:41:54

Can these children in Calais not be housed in the containers? I believe there are still spaces...or there were until quite recently - then at least they will be safer and warm, dry and fed?
Can the volunteers working in the camp not help them to transfer?
I saw a video of one the volunteer helpers actually encouraging a 12 yo to risk his live trying to get to the UK ...I found it shocking.
www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2qZ6gfu_BY
Surely she should have been encouraging him to move into the containers and then be counted and processed by the French government...taken into the care of their social services?
Or are the French not allowing unaccompanied minors into the containers?

BudsBeginingSpringinSight Mon 29-Feb-16 16:55:14

How can it be a fear to go to smaller camps?

Why are the French not helping these children seek asylum!

If the children go to the containers its not ideal but better than a sodden tent.

On one hand people say the camp is deplorable and disgusting but now they are saying the dry, heated, clean containers are not suitable?

I suspect there are hundreds more displaced children over Europe right now, I wish the UN could do something.

I wish the EU collectively could do something.

But if we take in the UK all the children from those camps - many more will follow.

Kent childrens services is already under strain.

BudsBeginingSpringinSight Mon 29-Feb-16 16:56:12

Unlucky I read the containers were priority housing for the women and children. They will be safer there because of the hand print system.

HelpfulChap Mon 29-Feb-16 17:05:20

Here we go again.

Let the guilt tripping begin.

januarybrown1998 Mon 29-Feb-16 17:13:36

But they do not need to be in the camps; the French are providing clean, warm, safe containers.

I wouldn't let a dog stay in that camp, never mind a vulnerable child; nor would I be encouraging any of those children to risk their lives at night as this delusional woman does.

The real criminals here are those encouraging children to stay in appalling conditions, not letting French SS help them, and whipping up unnecessary hysteria by lying to vulnerable people and encouraging them in illegal and criminally damaging activity which is firmly turning the public sympathy away from helping anyone in Calais.

I help collect donations for Syria in my area and in the last few weeks (thanks, Jude Law), some people have been hesitant to donate as they see the Calais camps as unregulated placed full of potential criminals whom they do not want to see in the UK. They are unable, thanks to deliberate obfuscate in some media, to distinguish between genuine Syrian refugees and economic migrants who demand to love in the UK.

januarybrown1998 Mon 29-Feb-16 17:27:10

*live, obvs!

AgainstTheGlock Mon 29-Feb-16 17:39:14

I know you're trying to help, but these children don't need to be taught how to count in French/English - they need a GROWN-UP to phone French social services on their behalf and get the ball rolling to GENUINE safety.

Can you not take your mobile phone with you next time you go and make the call when said child is stood next to you and reassure the child that "it'll all be OK?".

I can't imagine faffing around with counting and then walking away without doing something sensible which will change a life.

Theimpossiblegirl Mon 29-Feb-16 18:09:32

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Theimpossiblegirl Mon 29-Feb-16 18:11:41

Just read January's link, probably posted in naive enthusiasm. Shall ask for a deletion as I don't want to be controversial.

Edwardtherabbit Mon 29-Feb-16 18:58:49

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

Quaintessential Mon 29-Feb-16 19:17:02

So you're saying the camps are a 'living hell' and in the next sentence you're talking about building schools and centres, effectively encouraging people to stay in their living hells. Why are you not encouraging them to obey the law of the land they're in and claim asylum? If I came across an unaccompanied child anywhere in the world I'd take them to the nearest police station where they could be protected and have access to social care.

emilybohemia Mon 29-Feb-16 19:47:58

I'm pleased to see this post. Pleased sounds like the wrong word, but people need to know the truth. I am horrified by the actions of the French authorities today and appalled by the European response to refugees.

Massive respect for you and love to you. Thank you for keeping this in the public eye and for sharing your experience on this platform.

Palebluedotty Mon 29-Feb-16 20:26:17

I agree entirely with January, Against and Quaint

People have been offered warm, dry, secure, sanitary accommodation plus asylum in FRANCE, a beautiful, rich, prosperous nation. Anyone truly in need would gratefully accept both the short term, much improved accommodation and the long term asylum offer.

Those refusing are only doing so because they don't want to be fingerprinted and forced to accept asylum in France. They wish to cherry pick their first world country and go for the UK. France isn't good enough for them.

I simply don't believe that unaccompanied minors haven't been offered help from French social services. And yes, who the hell faffs around with counting lessons instead of picking up the phone and sorting out where the closest asylum official is. There is something very wrong about that narrative.

People have been throwing stones at police. Apparently encouraged by a No Borders activist who has been arrested.

Is it common for the Guest posts to be anonymous? At the very least, I hope MNHQ has verified who this person is and what their political affiliations are, for all that they say they are for people not politics.

IoraRua Mon 29-Feb-16 20:31:33

Surely the best way to help these children is by supporting them to claim asylum and get on the road to a safe roof over their head, a proper education and all their basic needs met. Faffing around in the camp and teaching them the odd few numbers does not do this - it enables the camp to turn into a permanent shanty town, and those children to be stuck in a strange no mans land for months or years.

alittlebitprivateforthis Mon 29-Feb-16 20:44:16

To answer a few points. (I'm the guest blogger)
There are very few spaces left in the containers and none were allocated for the unaccompanied children.

There are around 5,500 people in the camp. Last week the Prefect admitted in court there are only spaces for about 1100 people across the whole of France.

Numerous attempts have been made to get these children recognised officially, but the government have not acknowledged them. These are children who have fled horrible oppressive regimes where the police are terrifying. People have not disallowed the French Social services from entering the camp. How could they? They haven't been in for these children.

Many of the children have a legal right to be in the UK - to be with family.

Calais is not a good solution, it is a pretty grim one. I would be happy to see it dismantled were proper solutions in place: the children looked after properly by the French, A UK asylum centre in Calais so that people for who wish to apply to the UK could be properly processed and then if they don't get accepted they can move on and make a new life for themselves.

Calais is better than what is happening now - people fleeing across the countryside, some to Dunkirk, others just scattering into little groups where they will no longer have any support at all - no legal advice, no community, no access to food.

Independent video where you can see a family running out from the tear gas.

Edwardtherabbit Mon 29-Feb-16 20:49:37

The good thing about threads like this is that they highlight the ways that migrants can be manipulated and manoeuvred by those with dubious, misguided or downright wicked intentions

The migrants are sold the dream of a new life in Europe by people smugglers, lies on social media etc. The lie is reinforced by those who have gone before them who don't want to lose face to friends and family. They end up in places like this god forsaken hole of a camp, sometimes children get caught up in this bullshit too. Then, rather than be taken straight away to claim for asylum in France, they are encouraged and supported by people, such as Liz Clegg, to stay rotting in the camps and to continually attempt to illegally enter the UK. How dreadfully these migrants are being let down by those purporting to help them.

BudsBeginingSpringinSight Mon 29-Feb-16 20:52:02

Iora, this is what I am failing to understand!

You would think they are stranded in Syria right now, with tanks chasing them. Not in France which is a safe 1st world country!

Why are they not being helped and encouraged to claim asylum in France.

Its bonkers?! Wasting their lives like this, in mud, and then containers, they can't win.

People need to know the truth alright.

The Left No Borders influence and presence in the camp is coming out all the time, they encourage these people to stay. To fight authority.

The EU is facing an unprecedented crisis. Yes the coordinated response is poor and not all countries are as open and welcoming as Britain, France and Germany, Denmark etc, Notably the former Communist block countries are the ones with the razor wire and no intention of taking in migrants
( but happy for their citizens to flow in vast numbers to the west hmm).

BUT Europe has been trying to help, people are doing runs with donations, everyone is scrambling Britain, sends vasts sums of aid to camps round Syria. Its chaos, esp with Merkles ridiculous call to all the economic migrants.

I am not sure what more Britain is supposed to do really.

BudsBeginingSpringinSight Mon 29-Feb-16 20:53:55

There are very few spaces left in the containers and none were allocated for the unaccompanied children

Really how come? Surely they are the most vulnerable of the lot? Have you got links please.

BudsBeginingSpringinSight Mon 29-Feb-16 20:56:46

no legal advice

I would question the legal advice they are currently receiving if they have taken it and are still, in the camp.,

Why is no one taking these children to the authorities not waiting for the authorities to come to them.

Or are you saying that France does not take asylum claims at all from un accompanied children?

fourmummy Mon 29-Feb-16 20:59:31

"There are very few spaces left in the containers and none were allocated for the unaccompanied children" - To whom were these spaces allocated then and why won't adults give up their space to a vulnerable child?

januarybrown1998 Mon 29-Feb-16 20:59:39

No “better” jungle is needed, no humanitarian solution can be found. What we need is to go beyond the European rhetoric of humanitarianism because with every purely humanitarian gesture we become apologists for Europe’s colonial, racist, and never ending war against the outsider. What is needed is anti-capitalist and anarchist solidarity, the overthrow of governments and the destruction of Europe’s borders. What is needed is the regularization of status and freedom of movement for all

From the calais migrant solidarity blogspot here

Those poor wee souls, pawns in an adult game of anarchy.

seeThereWeAreThen Mon 29-Feb-16 21:02:26

alittlebitprivateforthis I think it's honourable of you to be volunteering in camp.

Would you be good enough to answer a couple of questions please?

Have the unaccompanied children been taken to the local authority?

Haven't the French pledged enough places for everyone? Surely they can only provide the expected places if people come forward to be counted?

Why are the families running across the countryside, not already applied for asylum?

Why were there leaflets found in camp, telling migrants not to go to the new container camp?

emilybohemia Mon 29-Feb-16 21:03:16

Alittle, I heard that a baby and other children were in hospital today because of the tear gas. It's utterly barbaric. I am listening and so are many others. We are appalled at what the French authorities have done.

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