April Desk Review: Day 1

April 6 2016

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An enclosed camp has been built within Calais ‘jungle’ by the French government which does not recognise Calais jungle as a refugee camp: the jungle is instead treated as a slum and shanty town. The government has demolished a large sections of the camp – including the entire southern part of the jungle – and has displaced those living there.

Blog post written by and photographs taken by Shyamli. Captions added by Jae June.

Today kicked off the first day of the Zaroorat April Desk Review.

After long journeys from London, Oxford, Paris and Berlin, we arrived at Calais yesterday evening and began by planning our objectives and tasks for the next few days. Following a well deserved sleep and breakfast, the Zaroorat team members – Shyamli Badgaiyan, Tudor Etchells, Chris Tabet, Padmini Gopal, Salsabeel Khan, and Jae June Lee –  made our way to the Calais “Jungle” the next morning to familiarise ourselves with the camp and begin gathering initial information.

This was particularly important considering the evictions from the southern area of the camp that had taken place in the preceding weeks, leaving the camp halved in its size and population. Jae June, Chris and I had visited the camp only months prior – and found it now lacked the bustle and commotion that had characterised its busy streets. We were saddened and surprised to find bare lands in place of what had been the homes of people we had been welcomed by only weeks earlier. Tudor, Padmini & Salsabeel made their way around the camp for the first time, and too were surprised by the eerie silence of the morning. As we soon found out, many refugees were yet to wake up in the early hours of the morning, given many of them spent the night attempting to make their way across the UK-France border.

Shortly after, we were greeted by several passersby in the North of the camp. They came from places as diverse as Kuwait, Afghanistan and Pakistan – and were extremely friendly towards us. We exchanged hellos and stories of where we had come from, and our experiences at the camp. They were all eager to share their experiences – although some were more optimistic than others. Faisal*, from Sudan, told us how despite the rough conditions at the camp, he enjoyed interacting with volunteers from different backgrounds. Ali* from Pakistan shared with me how he had come to Europe because everyone had glorified the idea of the great life here – only to find that when he reached, he had found little satisfaction and only a yearning to return home. Ahmed*, from Afghanistan, did not have this option – having had his home now captured by Taliban.

The diversity of their experiences, and their hospitality, made us realise the relevance of our project and reinforced our enthusiasm for the crucial, though complex, task at hand. Understanding refugee needs and stories was fundamental to providing effective assistance – and empowering them was key to any sustainable change.

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Tudor, Padmini, and Jae June (from left to right) noting new developments in the camp.

Also fundamental to the project was contacting and building links with NGOs working in the area, to both communicate refugee needs and avoid re-inventing the wheel. It was this that we decided to devote the rest of our afternoon to – after stopping for a hearty lunch and several chai’s at the reputed “3 Idiots” restaurant. Coincidentally, while at the restaurant, we bumped into a French volunteer from Lille who was researching her Masters thesis on a similar topic: how NGOs coordinated and worked together in the camp. She informed us that there was a meeting that afternoon amongst the heads of various leading organisations in the camp such as Care4Calais, MSF and L’Auberge Des Migrants. We quickly contacted a person at this meeting and were pleased to hear we could attend it.

We divided the groups into pairs to complete these various tasks most effectively. Jae June and Salsabeel went into Calais City Centre to attend the meeting of organisation heads, while Tudor, Padmini, Chris and I divided into pairs to touch base with various NGOs and refugees within the camp. The purpose of both these tasks was to assess what the NGOs were already doing in terms of needs assessment, and how we could best benefit them through our project and surveys.

Sign found near the Women’s and Children’s Centre. Before the government demolition of the Southern Section, estimates put the total camp population at 7’000. Exact population counts are difficult to make due to the dynamic and transitory nature of the camp.

Tudor and I spoke to workers from Hummingbird Safe Space, Medecins du Monde, Calais Legal Centre, Women and Children Centre, as well as a woman running a smaller community shelter for families. We received extremely useful input from each of these regarding the workings of the camp, gaining an insight from the perspective of both small and large organisations. Many of the workers stressed the lack of coordination amongst NGOs and the need for bridging communication gaps in the camp both with refugees and amongst NGOs. Elaine, from Hummingbird Safe Space, said this was a greater problem with new and small organisations – whereas long-term organisations like her own were fairly well connected with one another. This gave us a deeper understanding of how we could best collect and disseminate data and strengthen connections between NGOs as well as with them and the residents of the camp. It seemed then that smaller organisations could benefit from a deeper understanding of refugee needs – while larger organisations could benefit from spreading information about their initiatives to more residents.

Padmini and Chris worked in a different area of the North Zone and spoke to a few families in the camp as well as the French government sponsored organisation La Vie Active. The families stressed that they often did not know the support available to them in the camp, particularly in the realms of mental health and medical facilities. La Vie Active, stressed this point too from a top down perspective. They too emphasised that there was a lot of misunderstanding and lack of awareness regarding camp resources – and that both refugees and NGOs could benefit from having better communication links.

The Legal Centre provides much needed advice about, for example, asylum laws and the legal rights one has when detained by the police.

On returning from the camp, we debriefed each other and caught up with Jae June and Salsabeel to learn about their experience at the meeting with the heads of organisation. It was interesting to find the theme of communication gaps running through all our conversations. Jae June and Salsabeel said the meeting – although in French – was a platform for coordination and communication between the major organisations. It gave them an insight into the upcoming plans of different organisations, and an opportunity to introduce our Zaroorat project to them. We learnt that L’Auberge des Migrants conducted similar needs assessment in the camps – and subsequently set up a meeting with them to find out more on how we could collaborate.

After exchanging these ideas and thoughts over another delicious meal from 3 Idiots, we called it a day. We made an initial plan for the following day – dividing into groups again to work on arranging and attending further meetings with NGOs, as well as continuing with desk research and boosting of our brand new Facebook page.

All in all – our first day was extremely enjoyable, challenging and productive. We learnt a lot about the camp and worked effectively in teams to gain perspectives from both residents and NGOs. We’re excited to see what’s ahead – and how we can go on to best fulfill the “Zaroorat” of the Calais camp!


*Names have been modified.


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