Volunteering in Calais – My week in Calais part 2

Volunteering in Calais

In my previous post, I talked about volunteering in Calais and the perilous position the refugees are in. Since then, the judge postponed her decision on whether to demolish large sections of the camp, but unfortunately it was only a for a couple of days. The latest reports are that the authorities are beginning the demolition process. So it now looks like thousands of people will be displaced once again, likely to disperse to ever smaller and ill-equiped camps along the coast. Which in turn means they will need our help more than ever.

When me and Rupert arrived, there wasn’t any construction work available, so instead we opted to put together medical kits to give out to the refugees in case the demolition order went through. We needed to make 1000 kits – and estimate of one for each family in the south section. We also made up around 70 First Aid kits for volunteers with medical backgrounds to administer. In one day we managed to make about 600, with some of the kits missing items that we ran out of. Hopefully the missing items have been donated since then.

There are many different items that make a real difference to the refugees. Men’s shoes are needed, as the French authorities confiscate them when they are caught attempting to cross the channel. Alcohol-based sanitising gels are needed – although disposable one-use packs are preferred as they can be distributed to more people. The reality is that need changes alongside changes to the circumstances and influx of the refugees. While vehicles loaded up with clothes and supplies are welcome, the real difference is made through volunteers – boots on the ground. What has also been demonstrably effective is when volunteers have organised a ‘whip-round’, raising decent sums of money to be spent in Calais. This means that items that are most needed can be purchased immediately to alleviate a problem.

The organisers are wary of posting photos that give away the warehouse’s geographical location due to the presence of far right groups in the area. The Pas-de-Calais region is one of the poorest and politically right-wing in the country, and many people do not appreciate the presence of the refugees. There have been reports of people entering the camps at night and stabbing refugees, so the organisers feel it best not to inflame the situation. The irony of this is that the influx of volunteers is bringing a lot of money into the local economy. Volunteers need somewhere to eat and sleep, after all.

The following photos show the kinds of things that you can do to help the refugees. I’ve reposted the links below if you wish to contact the charities for more information about volunteering in Calais.

L’Auberge des Migrants

A Home for Winter

Volunteering in Calais

The entry point of the warehouse. This is where donated items arrive, and sorted items leave. As you can see, the scale of the operation is impressive.

Volunteering in Calais

There are lots of notices and bulletin boards for volunteers to connect and car share, as well as raise money for various causes.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

The workshop. This is where the shelters are built, but production had been paused while they waited to see what was happening to the camp. Many of the shelters that have been donated are likely to be destroyed in the coming weeks.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

People of all ages are welcome to volunteer. If you feel comfortable using various tools, you are encouraged to do so. If you have a particular skill-set, such as medicine, construction, teaching and cookery, then there is a job for you.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

These are the contents of the medical kits that we were asked to make. Unfortunately these are likely to be handed out over the next few weeks as police use teargas on the refugees.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

This is one of the sorting stations in the warehouse. Items are brought in to be categorised and moved to different work stations, where they will then be packaged and sent out to the refugees when needed.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

This is the sorting point for the donated food. The food is cooked daily, with most being donated to the refugees and the rest to the volunteers. The quality of the food is very high, and was some of the healthiest food we had during our stay.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Calais-Warehouse-38

Volunteers take a break and enjoy a well-earned lunch. The social side of volunteering helps pass the time while doing what can be quite repetitive work. In the morning, the day normally starts with a group warm-up routine followed by a ‘thought for the day’.

Volunteering in Calais

The kitchens are very well organised, with quantities of food and destinations planned weeks at a time.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Signs and artwork adorn all areas of the warehouse. Long-term volunteers are asked to create attractive messages and artworks to raise awareness and make the place feel more inviting.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

The clothes sorting operation is the most impressive. The charity have a huge stockpile of clothing that needs to be sorted and distributed. This takes up most of the volunteers manpower and time.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Refugees are just as likely as you or I to reject clothing based on taste; it is surprising what people will donate. Normally silly items of clothing are used as an example of what not to keep, or recycled.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Items are finally repacked, ready for distribution to the different camps.

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais

Volunteering in Calais.

If any one from L’Auberge des Migrants or Home for Winter are reading this and would like to use the images or correct anything, please email me and I will happily comply.

 


Rough in the Jungle – My week in Calais

Life in the Calais Jungle

Last week me and my friend Rupert went to the Calais Jungle to volunteer at A Home for Winter, which is a charity building safe and secure homes for the refugees at the camps in Calais and Dunkirk. When we arrived, there wasn’t a lot of construction going on due to the uncertain future of large sections of the camp. Not that this mattered, as there is an almost limitless amount of work for volunteers to do every day. It turned out that the charity was working alongside L’auberge des migrants international, which was primarily focussed on delivering aid and support to the thousands of refugees stuck with nowhere to go.

On the second day, we volunteered to go litter picking in the Calais Jungle. I was a bit apprehensive about taking photos at the camp, as I had heard stories from other volunteers that the camp had become a bit of a media scrum, with people photographing without the refugee’s consent and causing a lot of animosity. Why you would not ask permission is beyond me, but nevertheless the organisers told us in no uncertain terms not to photograph the refugees unless you have express permission from the camp leaders. As well as this, the organisers warned that photographing the refugees can have serious implications for their asylum applications. Most migrants want asylum in the UK, and by photographing them in France this could warrant their claim invalid.

While working as a volunteer and a representative of the charity, there was no way I was going to photograph the refugees. This presented a challenge – how to take photographs that illustrate the struggles of the people that live there while protecting their identity? I decided to shoot landscape and detail shots showing the structures and artworks that they have created. Underneath all the misery, these people, many of them children, have created a community with shops, churches, schools and restaurants.

All of this is under threat, with the French authorities threatening to raze the entire south section of the camp where most of the more established construction is located. If this happens, it will force thousands of inhabitants, including hundreds of children without parents, to move on with nowhere to go except to the converted shipping containers provided by the French authorities. The refugees do not want to go there because they fear it will compromise their asylum claim to the UK. They also have an intense distrust of the French authorities, who have not shrouded themselves in glory, with many recorded instances of abuse and maltreatment. Fortunately there is a glimmer of hope, with demolition likely to be postponed, but the threat still remains in the long term.

The very fact that this camp exists is tantamount to negligence by both the French and the British governments. That a refugee camp, let alone one of this scale and with such poor facilities should exist in a modern democracy is shameful in itself. If you are reading this, and you have the time to be able to volunteer, I urge you to do so. There is so much that can be done. Sometimes it feels like what you are doing is a drop in the ocean, but it all helps in the long run. In my next post I will go into more detail about how the charities are run, and what you can do to help.

 

Calais Jungle 9

The view from the south side of the camp. The flattened area has already been demolished by the authorities. They shovelled dirt to create a buffer zone between the camp and residents, and to create a perimeter that refugees must not construct homes on.

Calais Jungle 29

A caravan that provides essential equipment so that refugees can survive their first days in the camp. At the moment the freezing cold weather makes this facility even more important.

Calais Jungle 54

Calais Jungle 53

This GoPro rig is filming 360-degree footage of the camp. There were many photographers and film makers documenting the situation in the Calais Jungle. While media attention is necessary to raise awareness, refugees fear the camp is becoming a ‘zoo’, with people coming purely to see the camp as if it were a tourist destination.

Calais Jungle 23

Calais Jungle 52

Jungle books is a volunteer-run scheme where refugees can get access to English lessons, and also discuss their asylum applications. Volunteers at the charity are encouraged to talk to the refugees and learn about their stories. Many refugees are highly educated individuals, with skills in engineering and the sciences, and would be an asset to any society they joined.

Calais Jungle 4

Calais Jungle 3

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Calais Jungle 50

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Calais Jungle 46

Some of the constructions are quite sophisticated. This home has used thermal sleeping bags as curtains to retain the heat. Shoes are kept outside to keep the home as clean as possible.

Calais Jungle 45

Calais Jungle 44

A common sight at the camp – refugees stand on mounds trying to get reception on their phones. In the background you can see the converted shipping containers that the authorities are trying to persuade the refugees to move into.

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Calais Jungle 42

Calais Jungle 41

Another common sight is clothing hanging everywhere. In wet weather, the camp becomes a quagmire, and clothes need to be kept away from the filth as much as possible.

Calais Jungle 40

A large partially frozen pool of stagnant water sits in the middle of the camp. Refugees now have access to clean running water, but the situation in Dunkirk is much worse, with limited cleaning facilities that are totally inadequate for the thousands that live there.

Calais Jungle 39

Structures have been put together using whatever people can get their hands on. This home is held together with a crutch being used as a tent peg.

Calais Jungle 38

Calais Jungle 37

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Calais Jungle 35

Food at the 3 idiots cafe. We were welcomed in and sold Chai tea. The recipes were from the various refugee’s local cuisine. There are many different businesses in the camp, mostly selling food and supplies.

Calais Jungle 1

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Calais Jungle 33

Religion plays an understandably important role in the jungle. This is one of several places of worship in the camp, and one that is likely to be demolished, unless the authorities can be persuaded not to through sustained international and media pressure.

Calais Jungle 2

Calais Jungle 28

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Calais Jungle 30

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Calais Jungle 26

The amount of litter in the camp can be quite overwhelming at first. Most of the main streets are fairly clear of rubbish, but once you head into the depths of the camp, the amount of rubbish threatens to attract vermin and disease.

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Calais Jungle 22

The amount of rubbish collected in an area of about 50m².

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Calais Jungle 20

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Calais Jungle 17

Some homes have managed to connect solar panels, which at least will provide lighting and a charging point for phones.

Calais Jungle 16

Calais Jungle 21

An example of the artwork that can be seen all around the camp.

Calais Jungle 15

An art school at the camp. It also provides refugees with an outlet sell their artworks and sculptures to visitors and volunteers. I managed to buy a pair of shoes made entirely from discarded car tyres.

Calais Jungle 14

Calais Jungle 13

Calais Jungle 12

Strangely, we encountered a lot of shotgun shells lying around. It is possible that there was some kind of shooting range here before it became a camp.

Calais Jungle 11

Calais Jungle 10

A washing facility. There are a few of these stations dotted around the jungle.

Calais Jungle 8

Calais Jungle 6

Calais Jungle

If anyone from the charities I worked for are reading this and would like me to correct anything, or would like to use the images elsewhere, please email me and I will happily comply. 


Support Junior Doctors

Support Junior Doctors! I was recently pointed towards a request for someone to photograph a banner supporting the junior doctors strike. Seeing as I had access to a studio and the lighting equipment to do this I volunteered. They warned me it was 18 metres long by 1.4 metres wide, which proved to be quite a challenge to shoot.

At first I tried setting up a rig and photographing the banner from above, but it proved to be too tricky to get high enough with stable camera support for it to work. Plan B was to hang it over the studio backdrop bar, and photograph it one section at a time. This still proved to be awkward, as once I opened the images in Photoshop they inevitably wouldn’t line up. This problem would have been avoided had I photographed from directly above.

Support Junior Doctors

Despite these problems, I photographed each section from the same distance and kept the banner as straight as possible. With a little photo stitching and liberal use of the transform tool I managed to create what I think is a passable effort. The plan is for a digital copy of the banner to be printed and publicly displayed to raise awareness. This meant it had to be photographed at a very high resolution so that it could be printed life size. My computer suffered from attack of the rainbow wheel a few times, but it somehow muddled though.

The creation of the NHS letter has been a labour of love for all of the people involved, so I was happy to lend a hand. It’s for a good cause, so please support your Junior Doctors by signing the following petitions:

Consider a vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary

Jeremy Hunt to resume meaningful contract negotiations with the BMA

And now for the enourmous image itself:

 

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