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From caravans to kitchens: alleviating the suffering of refugees in Calais

Although our series focuses on longer-term sustainable approaches to migrant integration, we think it is important to highlight projects that are providing temporary relief for refugees, as they too are an integral part of their journey into resettlement. 

The refugee camp in Calais, dubbed ‘The Jungle’, is home to approximately six thousand refugees from Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan amongst many other countries. The conditions in which these destitute and desperate people are having to live in is far from desirable; most of them remain in makeshift tents constructed from tarpaulin and branches, with bin bags for added protection. After heavy rainfall, The Jungle becomes a vast swamp. The dream of escaping poverty, oppression and danger for a life of ‘freedom’, seems laughable when looking at the state of The Jungle. However amongst this smog of hopelessness, there are specks of light, thanks to creative and tenacious individuals who are committed to supporting the lives of these refugees.

Good Chance Calais

Good Chance Calais seeks to provide a safe, warm and welcoming space for people to express themselves and their situations in The Jungle. Their aim is to express humanity, existing at the core of this international crisis. When first visiting The Jungle, the team were struck by the willingness of refugees to share their stories. Soon after, they set up Good Chance Calais as a space for people to tell their stories, express themselves, or simply escape and have some fun.

Good Chance Calais offers writing workshops, music lessons, dance, acting and performance. They regularly welcome visiting companies and artists who deliver workshops in specific performing arts including circus and clowning. They also work in smaller groups to develop more intimate process and performance pieces. Every evening they host large communal events, bringing all of the camp’s many nationalities together. These include acoustic sets, rap battles, film nights and theatre performances.

Good Chance Calais’ core team of six will stay involved until there is no longer a need for their work.

One Spirit Ashram Kitchen

One Spirit Ashram Kitchen is a kitchen set up and run entirely by volunteers, providing up to one thousand meals a day. Two men from Bath set up the kitchen and saw the need not just for hot food, but for a place for people to share a meal together, share their stories and feel human again.  The team is a mixture of volunteers from a range of countries including UK, France, Germany, Belgium and camp residents from Iran, Syria, and Iraq, amongst other countries. The kitchen promotes intercultural dialogue, with volunteers and residents dining alongside one another.

Having volunteered with One Spirit Ashram Kitchen myself, I have seen at first hand how great an impact a group of volunteers can make. A new site is currently under development to build a larger kitchen to accommodate more people. There is a steady stream of volunteers whilst the kitchen is hoping to expand its service to more refugees, delivering parcels to various parts of the camp that are further away from its location.

Caravans for Calais

The organisation Caravans for Calais places caravans and other mobile support units into humanitarian crisis situations. It was set up Lea Bevan who is an established entrepreneur. Lea was captured by a photo she had seen in the papers, of a refugee in his wellies in a drowned camp. Having recently bought a caravan herself, she saw caravans as a potential solution to alleviate this suffering. She found a Facebook group seeking to help the humanitarian cause in Calais and suggested sending caravans over.

The project has been a huge success. To date, Caravans for Calais has raised funds for one hundred caravans and twenty-five vehicles. Family caravans are allocated according to a list compiled by volunteers on the ground. For example, priority is given to tents occupied by small children or those that have been flooded. The organisation also supports other grassroots workers by providing vehicles, enabling them to improve the delivery of their work. The organisation, originally funded by grants, is now looking towards new income streams supported by Lea’s local council who have provided a warehouse. The idea is to sell vintage clothes in the warehouse, with the long-term aim of using this as a space where refugees will be able to volunteer and broaden their skills.

The organisation’s next goal is to raise funds for three large vehicles to be sent to Macedonia, where there remains a great need in assisting refugees to reach the border. Additionally, as border-crossing inside a vehicle is prohibited, a further three vehicles are needed on the other side of the border to take them to the nearest refugee camp.

Good Chance Calais, One Spirit Ashram Kitchen and Caravans for Calais have been set up and run by individuals, with each model being inherently inclusive. Refugees and volunteers are working alongside each other wherever possible to attain a common goal. The work done by these organisations not only addresses the basic needs of refugees, but also builds relationships, bonds and comradery between people from around the world.

By Sneh Jani, Year Here Fellow

Read more from our Beyond Crisis collection.