Calais’ Jungle badly needs aid, but it’s inundated with the wrong kind
She’s driven her car, which has local number plates, to the centre of the camp to deliver supplies. However, this gung-ho approach is met with chaos from people who are desperate for help.
After handing out just one blanket, she throws her hands up in despair at the scrum, jumps in the car and drives off, the back seat full of un-delivered goods.
The scene is not uncommon at the camp, where an increasing number of well-meaning people are arriving without considering the logistics of their mission.
With the refugee crisis across Europe dominating the news, thousands have been spurred into action, with the UK, France and Belgium focusing much of their attention on Calais.
Facebook groups have been set up, donations have rolled in, and convoys of cars, vans and trucks have set the sat nav to the Jungle. Organisations on the ground have advised against just showing up unannounced, but many have come nonetheless.
Lincolnshire-based Lee McGrath, who set up the Lincolnshire Aid 2 Calais group, and is working with a local mosque in the UK planning to drive a bunch of Luton vans to the camp soon, told Mashable that renegade do-gooders are a problem.
They park up at the entrance to the site, are swarmed with people, and drive home scared by the experience, where they blog negative things about the camp, he said.
The other big problem with the surge in donations is the gifts don’t necessarily match the needs. The rudimentary school on site, for example, has hundreds of Biros pens when it really needs Arabic to French dictionaries, according to one teacher.
The library, meanwhile, has been so inundated with books since word got out that they’re asking for money instead.
“We have enough books,” says Bill, an English helper at the library. “We need to do some culling. But then if we say we don’t need books, we’ll soon need books.”
It sometimes feels like people are “offloading stuff,” he said, using the cause as a way to clear out spare rooms. They’ve been sent a load of baby things, for example, and there are very few infants on site.
They were also sent a batch of Mills & Boon books, and Bill has had to convince some of the camp’s residents that raunchy romance is worth their time. Sadiq, a camp resident who also helps out, says there have been requests for more Agatha Christie novels.
Of course, aid is still desperately needed. Many refugees told us they mostly subsist on one meal a day, distributed during the afternoon at the nearby Jules Ferry centre. Local restaurants drop off food sometimes, and shops on site sell basic supplies if you have the money, but the situation is dire. With winter fast approaching, warmer clothes and proper shoes are also warmly welcomed.
As we wandered the site Tuesday, several more organised trucks were distributing products.
A Dutch team were taking shoe sizes, and orderly queues were forming by their truck. As word spread that shoes were given out, men in ill-fitting Crocs and flip flops flocked to grab a pair. Elsewhere and several trucks were distributing food – including bananas and Green & Blacks chocolate – to grateful residents.
Generators are also highly prized. One local Frenchman, Dominique, brings a couple on site each day and their Wi-Fi and phone-charging capabilities are invaluable. His wife brings loom bands, and yesterday’s trend for British and American kids is today’s obsession for some of the camp. The colours of the Afghan flag are particularly popular.
Over in the Christian church, they say they need candles, mats and timber to improve and repair the structure.
So how best to help when the needs of the camp are so fluid? The key is to provide what’s been asked for, not what you might have lying around.
Facebook groups like Calais: People to People Solidarity have regularly updated information on what’s needed and when.
Médecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), meanwhile, the only medical team on site, deal with a daily queue of people needing assistance for a range of ailments, from broken limbs to colds and pyschological problems – they need more money.
Many of the educated refugees here would love the chance to continue their education. “We get food, and clothes, but I want teachers,” Sim from Darfur, a science student who lost two brothers and an uncle before fleeing, told us. “Show me where a teacher is and I will go there.”
The one thing many want more than anything, though, is to reach the UK.
“Can you take me back to London with you?” a Syrian man jokes, when we ask him what he needs.
“How big is your bag?”