Visit and donations to Calais refugee camp

Our friend Linda Duckenfield collected donations for refugees in Calais to be delivered on her way to her home in southern France. Here is her story of her experiences delivering the donations, visiting the camp with French volunteers Jean Marie and Marianne working for l’Auberge des Migrants and seeing some of the problems at Calais for herself.

and (in French)

Wire fence at Calais

“My daughter Beth and set off at 8am one September Friday morning with a
really very healthy set of bagged contributions filling the back seat of the
car, Quaker and Heeley donations. Of course I knew that what we could take
was only a drop in the ocean, but I’d been clear that we couldn’t go via
Calais without doing this.

We were very lucky with traffic on the M25, with getting to the Euroshuttle
terminal in time, with me suddenly remembering in time that I needed one of
those kits for driving ‘on the continent’, and everything.
I’d arranged to call at a collection point for l’Auberge des Migrants, one of
the main 4 French charities operating in Calais, and because I don’t have
satnav we had to make a detour to Calais tourist information and get a street
map which Beth then helped me navigate -out to a suburb not so far from where
‘the Jungle’ is, in the north east of the city. The contact point turned
out to be the home of a brilliant couple, Jean Marie and Marianne who were
not far off my age, and seem, like some Assist volunteers to devote their
lives -and their vacant garage to helping. All the contributions were useful
and appreciated -I’d only collected those things that were being requested
-and the monetary contributions were very much appreciated too. The English
teaching books were to go to the self built ‘Jungle Books’ library, and
Jean Marie was going to make sure that Roger’s marvellous texts would get to
the church, which as you know has been constructed mainly by Ethiopian and
Eritrean people. Some English contributions have been coming unsorted and
inappropriate to a bigger warehouse of Emmaus, and causing some sorting and
disposal problems for French volunteers -so it’s always best to check in
advance -I’d really recommend googling ‘Auberge des migrants -Calais’.

I was diffident about what we’d be able to see of the camp, and of course
conscious that it’s not a tourist attraction. And we were only there for a
few hours, unlike some English volunteers. But amazingly Jean Marie devoted
some time to visiting with us, wanting us to do so. Unusually however, there
had just been a bit of a fight on the camp the previous evening between 2
country groups, so it was better that we go together.

The north east of France is a greyish, flattish area. And the north east of
Calais, where the camp is, is a greyish, flattish bit of it, about 3 miles
out of town, and on fairly lumpy terrain with the beginning of sand dunes.
The camp has been there since the spring, having been somewhere else before
that, and in different places all this century (at Sangatte for ages as
you’ll remember) as Calais carries on absorbing the UK’s draconian border
controls. I meant to talk to Jean Marie much more about what they think of
our politics -weirdly Calais in terms of our border controls is kind of as it
used to be in Elizabeth I’s time, bound by some treaty to be an outpost of
England. Well I’d be very upset about all this if I lived in Calais.
But there was quickly so much else to see and talk about I didn’t manage to.

The site is big and has dirt roads leading to and in it, and has sort of
groups of tents and self built shelters almost in villages. There are between
3,000-4,000 people and only then between 100/120 women and very few children
-and they have mostly made themselves a separate area. We said hello to
people from Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Eritrea did talk a little bit
to 2 women from Syria and a child who’d somehow got there. It’s such a huge
effort to get there. And it’s really clear that although the camp seems big
when you’re there, it’s tiny really -a 50th the size of Glastonbury. We met
another very feisty retired volunteer Maya, who confirmed that people were
only sticking it out there if they had some really cogent reason for wanting
to be in the UK -a relative there, or good English and qualifications, or the
idea that it’s easier to work on the black if necessary. She said that both
French and English volunteers do try to explain how difficult the UK asylum
system is, but having bravely come so far people still want to give it a go.

Before the new arrangements in both countries because of the Syria crisis
-the UK has been receiving about 20,000 asylum seekers p.a. and turning away
half of them. And those that get there, as we know are now in reception
centres similar to detention centres, and have been being processed illegally
quickly without their claims being properly assessed. And while you have a
claim in process you get £36 -is that right Keith?

France gets more like 35,000 asylum seeker claims p.a and accepts about
20,000 and most go to smaller accommodation, actually called Centres
d’Accueil which has the sense of welcome. This has broken down in some of the
big cities, and some claimants have been sleeping rough. Claims take about 9
months to process. During that time people receive an allowance of 80 euros a
week -£56.

In the Calais camp though people are in limbo. They don’t want to register
their claim in France, because they would not then be able to come to the UK
-you’ve got one chance to claim asylum somewhere. I can’t understand why
France doesn’t insist on the UK setting up a processing centre in Calais if
they have this crazy agreement, even though that would no doubt be horrible.
So the people in the ‘Jungle’ -which is their own defiant name just get
some basic infrastructure from Calais -a building on site where a hot meal is
provided every day, and people have some access to showers, some generated
electricity, nowhere near enough water in 3 standpipes -this is a big problem
-and charitable support.

But the people on camp have their energy, determination and creativity. Some
of the makeshift structures, especially the church are amazing. Everywhere
people were working to support each other and make things better, and were
also determined to keep a sense of optimism. There’s been a big deluge 3
weeks before -tents had been washed away and people were having to level and
rebuild. But I mentioned Glastonbury for a reason. We’d wandered around for a
bit, shaking the hands of friendly people, seeing imaginative art work, small
stalls, eg barbers, ‘cafe’s,’ bigger tents to watch TV, bicycle
maintenance, (donated bikes are important, and give freedom) and I whispered
to Beth ‘It’s a bit like a festival.’ ‘Oh mum! That’s really
inappropriate. Which it was, but also it was. Spirit and co-operation.

And then we left, and on the way back saw the huge, inhuman wall and barbed
wire which Theresa May has spent a fortune on erecting – and thought about
those people risking and losing their lives in such awful ways to try to get
through a tunnel that we’d got through in 35 minutes.”