Day 2, refugee camp, France
Guest Post from Colette Ní Eachtarn (a friend who doesn’t have a blog… yet. Her words need to be heard)
Day 2 on the ground in ‘The Jungle‘ camp, Calais
Another very long day today – the sun was shining all day and the teams spirits were high throughout.
The first thing I noticed today and several times throughout the day, how much more tents were put up since just yesterday! People are arriving everyday and space and shelter are at a minimum. Thank the Gods and all the Irish people for such a great response to our plea for tents – they are so much appreciated here.
The other thing we noticed walking around is that tools – just the basics – are very much needed – there’s so much building of structures going on – also in order to build these structures the land has to be cleared – scythe’s would be perfect as the scrub is quiet high and thick.
Of course the other things that absolutely need looking at are the facilities throughout the camp like toilets which at the moment are either full or overflowing. Water points, there’s just not enough and showers – I didn’t see any??
Rubbish is another huge problem – one we said we’d make a start on today.
Today was a litter picking day for anyone not on the builder team or the medical team. I was a litter picker and delighted to do it!
We passed the medical team quite a few times throughout the day as we all made our way around the camp. They had a steady stream of patients with everything from small grazes to broken bones – I stood back and watched them at one stage and the calmness surrounding them as a group was amazing, their energy was a very warm and almost safe feeling – they are doing an excellent job with such grace and respect!
The building team, as I’ve said previously, are full of eagerness and strength and today they were no different – they had an earlier start than the rest of us and by the time we got to them they had already laid the base for their first shelter!! Two of the local residents joined in and two English lads from Guernsey also gave a hand – it was a delight to watch everyone working so smoothly and easily together – at one stage there was a whole line of residents lining up to see the progress! I’ve attached photos below. This is the beginning of the women and children’s structure – it just came at the right time as the existing women and children’s space only 30 feet away had burnt down during the night.
The litter picking team were all eager and ready – the task was massive way beyond what any of us thought but we put our heart and souls into it and did what we could do. There was so much! Some lovely Irish donation of ‘litter picker sticks’ were divided out – they save our backs a lot of the time. As we moved around in teams of 3 or 4 people would approach is to look and see what we were up to. The first young man to approach us was Adisu from Ethiopia – 24 years old – he left Ethiopia and travelled over 10,000km by foot through Sudan, Nigeria, Algeria and by boat to France to eventually reach Calais 2 months later!! Adisu had hurt his ankle trying to jump a train – he crushed it and had to have pins inserted – 3 months later it’s still very swollen and very sore – he tries not to move around too much – as soon as it’s healed he’ll be back out trying to find a way to the UK.
The next resident we met was Anna, 20 years of age from Eritrea. Anna is so beautiful and so welcoming – she and her two sisters made the journey by foot from Eritrea through Sudan, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey Bulgaria, Greece, Italy, France, reaching Calais after 2 months walking almost 8,000kms. Anna invited Roisin and I to come visit her house (tent) and we gladly accepted. When she opened the door of the tent we found a smaller tent inside – the reason being the little one inside wasn’t waterproof at one point and the bigger one wasn’t at another point so this way they stayed dry.
Anna’s sisters were laying in bed – they explained they were all very tired as they had done their routine morning journey to the port to seek any opportunity of making their way through the 20 foot high fence or maybe sneaking onto a truck. The police this morning had sprayed them with tear gas. One of the sisters had swollen eyes from it but she explained someone had blown cigar smoke into her eyes and that was the only thing they found would dull the pain. They also told us, this morning one of their friends had been blinded by the spray and walked out onto the road and was hit by a car and killed. They told us this is just a fact of life now, the police have no feelings towards them.
All three girls were also worried about being able to cook their meals as their women’s space had burned down during the night – they have no facilities now to cook. Roisin was straight on the phone to the depots looking for gas stoves and we’ll have that sorted by tomorrow. That feeling of relief for having done something didn’t last too long, coming back out of the tent we were back to the reality of the whole camp again.
The thing I noticed more I suppose was how long it takes to get from one area to another – You start to head in a direction and end up being stopped and ultimately getting involved in another task taking you in another direction. e.g. We sat to rest for a moment and drink water and 5 minutes later we were all blitzing one particularly badly littered area – we cleared it in an hour so that this lovely Afghan man could start to construct a structure to start a shop. While we were doing that a Pakistan man asked if we’d help with clearing a site as he and his two friends wanted to start a restaurant.
Zee was this young mans name – he is 18 years old having left his parents 6 months ago after a threat came to his door from the Taliban – he was studying physics and maths in the university and he was told either join the Taliban army or get out before they killed him – he left his parents that night to start his 7500km journey on foot and hasn’t seen them since. We sat for awhile and he told me about his loving parents at home – how every time he speaks to his Mum she cries worrying about him and knowing she’ll never see him again. He told me how he translated for a lot of people on camp and how he liked doing it and that he’s already started writing his book, he showed me. He told me he would find ways to keep his mind busy just so he wouldn’t go mad, his words ‘The Jungle can do terrible things to your mind if you let it’! This from an 18 year old! I hugged him and he told me I hugged like his Mum.
We also went to an Afghan restaurant set up by three Afghan residents. They too fled the Taliban and walked the 7,000+ Kms to Calais. The food was AMAZING and the hospitality was too – I really enjoyed the chats, the chai and good humour – honestly these people are just super! I went to shake hands with the smiley chef on the way out – his hand was missing, one of the guys at the door told me it was cut off by the Taliban.
There were lots of other stories from today – too many to mention – oh I did meet the 9 month pregnant women that we are building a structure for – she’s camped with her family of small children next to the building site – she held up 9 fingers telling me she’s now due and pointed to her new, almost built home and put her hand on her heart!! Who needs a common language eh?? When you can communicate with open hearts!!
Colette Ní Eachtarn visited The Jungle In France with the Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity
If you wish to help this effort please do so by:
- sending whatever you can to their fund raising site GoFundMe
- sharing widely on your social media streams
- talking with your friends about the needs of the people who live at these camps, we all need to change how we think about this situation