A piece of Banksy artwork in the former Afghan part of the Jungle. The tents and structures in this area have since been bulldozed.
Two weeks ago Liam and Paloma took a car full of your donations to Calais for those displaced and trying to survive in the desperate and squalid circumstances of 'The Jungle'.
The following is the account of their experience ;
The donation sorting warehouse is bursting at its seams with busy, eager volunteers working to a rhythm of Michael Jackson, reggae, garage and Motown pumped through big, ancient speakers. We spent the majority of the day cobbling together 'FULL KITS'.... A bin liner packed with warm undies, hats, scarves, fleeces and hygiene necessities. We were on 'small' and 'medium' men. We had a great time selecting the different combos. Refugees may not have much, but we wanted to make sure they had style! Lunch was banging. There is a bustling kitchen where spicy curries, colourful stews and steaming vats of rice emerge from for both the volunteers and those actually living in the camp. For some it's their only meal of the day. The atmosphere in the warehouse is extraordinary- lots of positive people getting on with important, simple tasks and a clear, practical management system. As you enter, you are met by someone in fluorescent orange; clad in yellow high- vis yourself, introduced to the lay of the land and put on a task. Those who have been volunteering a little longer earn the orange jacket and have all the answers for the newbies throughout the day.
We visited the actual jungle at the end of the day. It's unbelievable. A city made from pallets and tarpaulin. It has a hospital, school, church, theatre, tattoo parlour, barbers and lots of bars and restaurants with names such as 'Hotal 3 star' and 'The 3 idiots' spray painted onto make-shift mdf signs. Despite everything there is a sense of humour in there. Approx 8000 people reside there but not a single woman is outside, the only females you encounter are western helpers. Matthew, an ex military paramedic ( and real life cross between Captain Planet and GI Joe) was our guide. He was taking in saline fluid because the French police and fascists have been CS gassing the camp during the night. Police had also been shooting the refugees with rubber bullets. Matthew tended to these wounds. In fact the night before at our hostel, I was woken by shouts, as one of the volunteers vans was set on fire outside by the same fascist group.
Dunkirk, another refugee site, is an hour or so up the French coast which authorities have now stopped volunteers taking aid to, in short, this means people will die. 95% of the people in Dunkirk have scabies amongst many other diseases. What is happening to these people is inhumane and entirely despicable.
We soon met Marco, an impossibly happy man who lives in the jungle. Marco seems to be a one-man; architect, project manager, site manager, foreman, plumber, sparky and labourer in the building of a school, playground and hospital. We didn't have time to ask his story- but whatever he fled from, he had managed to retain an inspiring sense of spirit. Marco showed us into another space he was working on, where he plans to put a mini bar, wifi area and a bench press. In its current shell, the place seemed a million miles away from those luxury extras, but in that moment Marco's belief made it all feel possible... "Please come again, welcome, you welcome and enjoy mini bar!" he enthused at us with a hearty laugh. Marco's joy in sharing his plans for the camps future, left us feeling humbled and inspired. People need hope and people need to dream. Inside the storage containers that the British and French authorities have constructed, hope seems to be dead. You may have read or heard in the press this week about the authorities attempts to push the migrants to move into these characterless steel storage containers- which effectively look like cages for human beings. With the imminent threat of their current homes being bulldozed. What you may not have read is the human side to this... They are neatly ordered in rows, double stacked, with tiny windows in the top container but no natural light in the one beneath. There is a 10 foot fence surrounding the area, complete with glaring flood lights. During the day, those they intend to live inside, will not be permitted to remain there themselves or leave any of their possessions. Entrance to the containers will be through finger print recognition. Its effectively prison. These people have come to Calais as they have been forced had to flee their homes... And though the odds are stacked against them, have managed to create a mini-world; full of community, identity and hopes for a better life. What the authorities are planning, is to strip them of all this once and for all. Matthew said "Auschwitz was originally planned as somewhere to house people, it wasn't a death camp at first...". Stood on the perimeter of the storage container prison holding onto the green fence gazing in, It was impossible not to feel terrified at what lay ahead.
Please share this if it's impacted you. The British press isn't doing enough to report on this heart breaking human disaster.