On Saturday 10th October I made a visit with a friend to the migrant camp in Calais called the Jungle and a return visit was made on 7th November.
I had heard much and read lots of contradictory things about this camp via the media. The Jungle is not a new phenomenon. I made contact with those who are working in the camp on a regular basis, some for more than 20 years, although the number of migrants has grown enormously in the last couple of years and there is an estimated 6,000 migrants at the moment.
I have really enjoyed camping and especially at music festivals but am glad of a bath/shower and a comfortable bed at the end of a long weekend’s camping. The Jungle is similar in that most people are sleeping in tents, often donated from music festivals that people just leave behind. Camping in the mud and cold for a long weekend is one thing — living like that for nine months to a year is something else altogether, but normal for the Jungle residents.
Heating, cooking, washing and toilet use is an ongoing problem. There is one toilet per 150–200 people. The standpipes for water are not near the chemical loos. Hygiene is problematic. Warmth and cooking is mostly done by burning scraps of wood gathered from wherever it can be found. It’s more difficult to burn as lots of it is wet from the rain. Cholera and dysentery are a real danger. Trench foot and septic wounds are not uncommon. One meal a day for about 1,500 residents is provided by the French government; many others rely on the charities who hand out food bags on a regular basis.
Yet despite the terrible conditions the human spirit is amazing because in the midst of this ‘Jungle’ a few little shops and restaurants have appeared; there are two churches and a number of small mosques, a library and a small school, all run by the camp residents themselves. A part of the camp has taken on the look of a small African market.
Most of the camps residents are younger men but over the last few months there has been a growing number of women and children as well as young teenage boys who have travelled alone — there is an obvious vulnerability for this group of people.
We spent most of our time then at the library and school. Two amazing guys set up and run this. The provision of food is essential, but means by which they are able to express their dignity were equally as important. The library needs language dictionaries. The school needed insulation, white boards and pens, and the floor finishing off. All the materials for this were delivered on the second visit and made the school a warmer place to meet in the winter months. However, the school is set up for adults, and the growing number of children also need a school — but putting the two together is not a good idea. Children need a separate safe space for educational play.
There are a number of ways we can help:
Firstly always pray — actions that arise out of prayer and contemplation are enduring.
The charities rely on volunteers who give a couple of days to several months. Most of the volunteers are British doing general work of sorting and distributing, and who bring more particular skills such as builders and teachers of languages.
Lobby the government to increase the number of refugees to be admitted to this country.
Can we as the Ordinariate raise £3,500 to build a small school room for the children to learn and play together and find a couple of people with some general building experience to help? Time is pressing and we are due to go out again Friday 11–12th December. Any donations to Central funds mark ‘Calais Jungle’ and Cyril will set aside a restricted fund. Cheques should be made out to OOLOW Eastbourne and sent to Flat 2, Elms Meade, 7 Meads Road, Eastbourne BN22 7DT.