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Visit to the Jungle in Calais (February 2016)

REfugees Welcome

Jonathan Herbert and Br Hugh SSF visited Br Johannes Maertens at his Catholic Worker house in Calais for 3 nights from 15 – 18 Feb 2016. We spent 2 days visiting refugees, reaching them by walking 4km through the Calais suburbs, over a canal, past a huge chemical plant to the edge of the city where, through a motorway bridge (above), lay sandy wasteland, the Jungle, named after the Afghan word for woodland.

The entrance..

The entrance

 

The Police never came into the Jungle in the daytime, but there were stories of teargas at night. Similarly ambulances would only come to the edge, even in extremis.

 

Eritrean Church

The Eritrean Church (under continuous threat of destruction by the authorities)

On both days we enjoyed bright sunshine which made the mud and rubbish filled frozen puddles slightly less grim. Refugees get though lots of shoes here as they rarely get dry. Most refugees looked in their teens and 20s and overwhelmingly male. Some young women around were British volunteers. We found shops just as you’d expect in a south Asian village. At the entrance of the camp was the Hamid Karzai Restaurant, quite smart of wood and plastic, with glass or Perspex windows, a generator powering a few lights and phone chargers inside, and hot food on display. We later had a very nice meal of rice, dhal and nan bread for about 4 euros each. Johannes and Tom, a British Buddhist, in blue overalls, listened at length to an older Afghan who had things to get off his chest. Tom has lived in a caravan here for some months. Christian and Buddhist, both have the same task of listening and presence, largely to Muslims, and peace-making between the various groups and nationalities, and between the many NGOs who work with varying degree of cooperation. I saw the library with ESOL and French lessons offered, though I saw no class in progress. I saw the dome where the National Theatre in London had put on Hamlet a few weeks ago, and met a journalist/ artist from the National Theatre.

These photos very deliberately show almost no refugees at all close; few were happy with cameras.

Jonathan Jungle

I believe the portaloos had been installed by NGOs, not the French authorities. However French and British money had gone to a section of the camp, sterile and lifeless, filled with gleaming containers, with 3 windows each, where the most desperate resigned to signing into by giving their finger prints, with the strong belief that they would never be allowed to claim asylum in the UK. Everyone seemed think the UK was a much better place to go than France. I longed to tell them about the Verne Immigration Removal Centre which I visit.

We shook hands with many people, among others with Eritrean Orthodox at the now famous church and with a Sudanese young men who served us supper of bread and veg stew which we ate with our fingers lying on a mattress in his hut. Few told us their stories in any detail. It would no doubt take time to build up trust. But the overwhelming impression is that no one would choose to live in this place rather than claim asylum in France – but choose they do. It is extraordinary that this is Western Europe. It is extraordinary that no social services do anything about the unaccompanied teenage boys. It is extraordinary that Calais town so close by shows almost no sign that this is there – almost the only French I heard in 3 days was in the little baker’s shop near Johannes’ house.

Jungle 2