The French authorities have recently announced their plans to commence the official dismantling of the Calais 'Jungle' on Monday 24th October. Thousands of refugees currently residing in the camp are now facing one of the government's most extensive plans to evacuate and relocate these facilities to date. With the prospect of these events looming just over the horizon, some Durham University Students have taken the opportunity to share with us their reflections on the trip they made to the camp itself.
When you think of France, you might think of the country of love, of a country with a rich culture of music, film, and great gastronomy. Doubtless, you will recognise France as a relatively well-off country, influential on the world stage: a potential holiday destination, perhaps. Whatever your thoughts on France, the Calais “Jungle” is probably not the first thing that springs to mind, and it does not sit easily with what is stereotypically expected of a European culture.
Mentioned in the media only to aggravate anti-refugee and outright racist sentiments, it seems that the rest of the world either hates the Calais “Jungle” and its residents, or simply does not acknowledge its existence. This summer, a group of Durham students crossed the English channel: not for a holiday, but to volunteer in the Calais refugee camp. In doing so, they discovered France in a new light, revealing a side to Calais not normally shown in the media.
Amy Hawkin and Tom Musson playing some music.
Care4Calais is also involved in the distribution of aid, a process that highlighted just how little these people have. Doctors, engineers, and students queued up for hours to get a second-hand pair of shoes. Despite some people always leaving empty-handed, we faced no trouble and were even able to joke with people in the queue, who through human interaction seemed able to momentarily ignore the harrowing situation they were faced with.
Most of us agreed that, despite having briefly exchanged a few words during distribution, we were not able to communicate fully with the refugees during this time. It was the art and English classes run by Care4Calais that really allowed us to get to know those living in the camp. Art served as a great universal communication tool (we all giggled at our somewhat questionable drawing skills), yet it was the desire to communicate verbally that seemed to drive so many people. Refugees were immensely enthusiastic to learn both French and English, many of whom already had a good grasp but were desperate to improve and continue learning. We met a vast range of talented individuals, who mastered the English language so readily and easily (especially compared with our attempts at Arabic and Pashtu) that it really was a joy to spend time with them. As well as showing just how important language is as a tool for communication, these classes were a time to share stories and cultures and say what we all loved about our country and heritage, sharing this with other interested individuals.
Though the existence of the Calais “Jungle” is a far from ideal situation, people are really trying to make the best of it. The demolition of the Jungle is not only a demolition of tents, the only shelter these people have, but also a demolition of their culture, friendships, and homes that they’ve worked so hard to rebuild.
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