Diary of a first-time volunteer in The Jungle:
“Back in March I spent a day in the Calais ‘Jungle’, a refugee camp in the north of France home to around 6000 people.
The camp, situated on an old landfill site littered with white asbestos, is a bustling, makeshift community. People busy themselves cooking, building, studying and playing football.
Everyone I ask has been there for at least 6 months it seems, walking 2 hours every night to the Eurotunnel to try to reach the UK. Many lose their lives hiding underneath trains or in refrigerated lorries with little oxygen.
Stories of people suffocating, tying themselves to the base of trains and breaking their legs falling from fences are not uncommon.
Most dream of England. Makeshift bakeries in the camp sell ‘London Bread’, but this dream lies behind Cameron’s 11million fence and the English Channel. Sickeningly, when my day in the camp came to a close, I just flashed my passport at Border Control and popped across the Channel.
Nobody wants to be in Calais. Nobody wants to have had to leave home. The majority of people have fled war, persecution and survived journeys across Africa, Europe and the Middle East I cannot begin to imagine or even empathise with enough to fear. Young men and women have watched their friends and family be tortured, raped and left to die in their homes, in the desert, at borders and in the sea. Their lives unaccounted for and unreported.
To live in the Jungle is an immeasurable tragedy. The Jungle warns us that without citizenship and state protection, human life has no value unless we demand it. The refugee ‘crisis’ has left international human rights in our hands.
I was greeted with traumatised eyes and welcoming smiles. I was invited into people’s homes and offered so much tea. Those who have nothing are the best at sharing. The love and positivity in the camp is infectious, you’re instantly welcomed as part of the puzzle. I really didn’t want to leave.
An expression of culture is revealed in the little cafes handcrafted using scraps of wood, the flavours of home recreated from minimal ingredients and the distinctive customs and charisma evident. It’s strangely magical. We travel across the world for this kind of authenticity and often never find it. A taste of Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran and Sudan have materialised and integrated all in this one place.
Beyond the borders of citizenship, in this space of acceptance, a community has formed from a fusion of diversity as people try to re-establish their identity onto a blank canvas.
Amid cups of tea from rusty kettles on open fires, painting a new school and eating an amazing lunch in one of the Afghan cafes, I handed a couple of disposable cameras to the residents. I thought it best you see the Jungle through the eyes of those living there. Beyond the tourist gaze, they could capture the mundane. The few photos I took (not included) of the cafes, shops and schools, are noticeably different to those taken by my group of Sudanese friends.
I was disillusioned when all I thought about was the bitter nights, persistent mud and unforgiving rain throughout winter. The sun was bright and the camp was bustling. I was clouded by the ideas of unreachable dreams of life in the UK… because in this dehumanising mess I found the indiscriminate love and community we all crave.
That intrinsic love that transcends acquisition and achievement, most visible in those that have lost everything. It’s the kind of love that doesn’t recognise status, wealth and skin colour, but the value of character. It’s grounded in empathy rather than prejudice, selflessness rather than investment and undermines a world that profits from our insecurities.”
Thank you Lilian Bankiyan-Monfard for this beautiful account of your first day in The Jungle!