(Above: A walkway at the Jungle camp, Calais)
Four members from Cranleigh Baptist Church recently went to Calais to see, first-hand, the situation inside the illegal settlement, known as the ‘Jungle’. Over 6000 people have set up camp in the sand dunes adjacent the ferry port. The trip we embarked on was one of an exploratory nature, to investigate the requirements and needs of the people living in this settlement. A large number of those living in the camp are young men who have fled their far-away homes, with an aim to gain access to the UK, and a better life.
Our understanding of the situation was soon confirmed: many of the refugees have fled countries such as Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to escape persecution, violence, bombing: all the effects of war. However, it was difficult to understand why sections of the camp were occupied with Ethiopians, Eritreans, and Sudanese from much further away in Africa. We heard from these people, belonging to governments and regimes, in which they are persecuted to the point that mass exodus becomes necessary to survive. Getting to Calais involves a number of life threatening tactics. Refugees brave boarding Lorries and trains in desperate attempts to reach their ultimate goal- the UK.
On a political level, these people present problems to the countries they enter, both financial and space- wise. However, they remain human beings with urgent needs to be met – they will not simply disappear into the ether.
We linked up with a charity called Care4Calais, who run an operation supplying essential aid for those living and surviving in the camp, from their two warehouses near Sangette. UK churches, charities, social care groups, and selfless individuals, are donating items such as sleeping bags, food, shoes, clothes, and general supplies for camp living. Because we arrived during school half term, there were nearly 100 people available to support the operation, and a large backlog of aid was sorted for distribution. It really is a huge undertaking, looking after 6000 campers who are staying in the Jungle. We further met up with a French couple who were supplying bottled gas and taking in washing for campers. Yes, there are no laundrettes in the Jungle! – Not something you would usually require of it. The French government are supplying water, chemical toilets, and refuse collections.
Our group were able to go into The Jungle, and speak with the refugees whilst distributing aid there. In doing this, we aimed to offer encouragement and support wherever possible. We were able to walk about in apparent safety, and the refugees were very welcoming and most enthusiastic to share their stories. Part of the camp is even home to a high street known as Edgware Road, hosting a selection of shops and a single restaurant.
It is somewhat difficult to see a long term answer to their plight, given the status of the situation, the Jungle is constantly under threat of demolition. Authorities are currently looking to rehouse refugees elsewhere in France, whilst each individual case is dealt with. These new homes will hopefully provide a better quality of living, to what these refugees have been subjected to.