One day in Calais

I felt it became necessary to go beyond the mass media depiction of the Calais refugees camp. So my friend Basile and I packed our bags and booked a carpooling.

A few minutes after 7am, Friday 21st October 2016.

We are excited to cross the Channel to reach out our native country. Although we do not know what to expect when we arrive at the camps.

London England

We are the last car to make it to the ferry: they closed the boarding ramp right after we turned the engine off.

Dover England

We befriend with Jamie as he is sharing the ride as well.

He is taking a few weeks off to volunteer at Dunkirk refugees camp. He went there earlier this year but was not prepared for the harsh winter conditions.

This time he feels ready.

Dover England

We randomly discover that our ferry is actually heading to Dunkirk instead of Calais.

We decide to change our plans and to follow Jamie to the Dunkirk refugees camp. We would then go to Calais tomorrow, with some more experience, knowledge and outlook.

English Channel

The ride is now over and we are soon to walk in an unknown place to us.

We smile at the cops. They seem relaxed and easy to talk to.

Maybe it is easy because we are not refugees.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

Someone asks for our passports at the entrance of the camp. They are eager to know which NGO we work for. Jamies knows. We follow.

In a few meters, we are going to become the strangers.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

There are only a pair of NGOs left in the camp. The others left in protest.

Petra depicts us the situation. She refers to the Kesha Niya Kitchen : at some point, refugees would claim food and be told there is a shortage. They would humbly reply Kesha Niya in Kurdish, which means no problem.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

This World War II wood-powered portable kitchen is still operational.

And handy as it does not break and as wood is the only cheap energy source around.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

Local authorities built and opened this information center inside the camp. They lately realised no one could speak in Kurdish.
The center remains closed since.

Wood planks are missing because they have been taken out and used as heating source during the harsh winter.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France
Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

Numbers are to been seen on each shelter.

There is no registry so the shelter occupation level is one of the only ways to know how crowded the camp is.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

Locals would call this street la grand rue.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France
Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

Children were having so much fun it was difficult to hear each other.

Kids were super proud to show their toys and to say bonjour to us. Receiving a response increased the size of the smile on their face.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

A year ago, there was nothing except dirt at this very precise location.

Now, the school is a central point of socialisation for kids and parents. It is a key element for a future integration in a normal life.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

It was Neil’s last day at the camp. He used to teach French and English at the library.

The library is a central place where people get to know about another language, like French or English, which proves to be key to fill in asylum requests.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

This is the food warehouse. Meals are provided twice a day, for more than 800 persons, managed by only one volunteer.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

Refugees and volunteers cook hand in hand, with music playing out loud.

Refugees hated the food until some of them — who used to be chefs in Iraq — offered their help to cook and to match people’s habits. It has been a huge success.

I feel good to have helped prepare the salad for dinner.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

The biggest danger for volunteers is to burn themselves in the process, working too much, thinking about it too much.

They are responsible for the well-being of the camp inhabitants, and very few people take care of them.

I want to say a big thank you to them, for all the work, passion and efforts brought into something which looks like an endless battle.

You certainly changed the life of a bunch.

Grande Synthe Dunkirk France

It is dusk, and time to make our way to Calais. We hitchhike and get a ride with a lorry driver. We get to know a different opinion about the camp, the refugees and the violent incidents reported by journalists in the news. He mostly understands and just want his lorry not to be damaged.

We are soon due to arrive. Calais is wrapped in darkness, delimited by a corridor of white fences and the blue flashes of police cars rotating beacons. We can clearly feel the tension.

We knew we were close to the jungle as we saw these fences.

Quiet, standing, still. I wonder who is trapped, on which side.

La jungle Calais France

The jungle is about to be demolished in a few days. The entire place feels empty on this Saturday morning.

Nonetheless, I feel this rainbow to be providential, showing up over two churches: one of concrete, one of faith.

La jungle Calais France

Volunteers continue to provide school tuitions as long as they can. Tomorrow will probably be their last day.

I felt more fatigue on their faces.
They were already out of the place.

La jungle Calais France

I love how much effort is put into making the fortune shelters more lively and visually appealing.

It speaks out so much hope and dignity.

La jungle Calais France
La jungle Calais France

A longchair, an umbrella and a kitchen garden.

Some people managed to make it a rather singular place to live.

La jungle Calais France

Journalists are carefully inspected by the police force.

Some of them reported to us spending days in jail in atrocious conditions.

La jungle Calais France
La jungle Calais France

At the end of this road, Calais and its ferry port.

La jungle Calais France

These people were so happy to say bonjour to us.

They probably felt being close to the end of their journey. They would soon be able to reach the UK — a place depicted as the location to go to start a new life.

Calais France

I realise we went back and forth.

We did in a day what most people in the camps have tried to do over months and even years for some — crossing the Channel.

I am glad we helped, even only for a day.

Dover England