By Faith Anderson, Public Affairs Officer
On Monday 24th October 2016, the day official demolition of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp began, a friend and I drove some clothes over.
We rented a van and loaded it up with donations of winter clothes, sturdy shoes and thermal socks. We then hopped on a ferry and drove to the Secours Catholique distribution centre near the port in the town of Calais.
The reason the distribution warehouse is in the town and not near the camp itself is simple: there, twice a month, they can hold major distributions where migrants can come and receive clothing in a dignified way.
The camp residents can choose clothes which fit them, clothes they like the look of, without needing to queue like they do for hours each day to shower, charge their phones and get a meal. This wouldn’t be possible on the site of the camp.
The people working there were incredibly kind. The sacks of donations were piled high, with a team (mostly volunteers) sorting through them. The standard for donations is ‘things you would give to a relative’ – this is not about pity rags or shoes with holes. This was about treating some fellow humans as you would wish to be treated if you found yourself alone in a foreign country without money and with winter approaching.
Our van was searched five times in total, by border police, port officials and an armed soldier. The French border official scanned our passports and said that if we were seen protesting near the camp, they would have our passports. However, we were waved through each time.
And whilst there were police everywhere along the road to the port past the camp, things seemed calm during the afternoon at least. There is sympathy for the police who are dealing with a very difficult situation, outnumbered by people who have reached their wits’ end and who don’t understand their instructions shouted in French. Yet the tragedy is for the migrants who face tear gas and batons and watching the makeshift home they have survived in, sometimes for years, getting bulldozed.
It is a difficult situation with no easy solution, yet the Secours Catholique team were an example of Christian response: getting on with sorting the clothes and providing for whoever might come. We asked Pascal, who helped us unload the van, whether he thought there would be less demand following the demolitions.
“There have been camps here for 17 years. There have been demolitions before,” he said in perfect English. He smiled sadly, summing up the whole crisis and the failed governmental response so far: “We expect we will still be ‘in business’ for a while yet.”
Secours Catholique is accepting donations and carry out two major distributions per month for a few hundred people at a time. Donations can be delivered every Monday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon from 14.00 – 17.00 without appointment at 47 rue de Moscou, in Calais.
They need men’s clothes only, focusing on small sizes (S and M), including underclothing, backpacks, hiking boots and trainers, coats, blankets, sleeping bags, scarves, gloves and hats.
The opinions and positions expressed in this blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Caritas Social Action Network.
The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.