Calais is calling

I wake up and my immediate thought is, what's the weather like this morning? Is it cold, raining, windy, or bright? What will today be like for the refugees in the Jungle at Calais? Gill Hewitt writes.

I wake up and my immediate thought is, what's the weather like this morning? Is it cold, raining, windy, or bright? What will today be like for the refugees in the Jungle at Calais?

Since my recent visit, my mind is constantly concerned about their plight. The jungle is a huge tented community of around 7,000 people.


Nobody wants to be a refugee, no one wants to make that awful trek with its many dangers to a Jungle camp where you are stuck. The majority are men – from teenagers upwards. But women and children are stuck in the camp too.

The great sadness to me was to see unaccompanied minors. The refugees come from many places of great conflict – Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan but from Africa too, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria.

I had the chance to visit with a friend who was taking a van load of building supplies, old carpets, insulation, tents and ground sheets plus some clothes and food. We set off at 6am from the UK and about three hours later we arrived at the distribution centre just a few minutes away from the camp.

The majority are men – from teenagers upwards. But women and children are stuck in the camp too. The great sadness to me was to see unaccompanied minors. The refugees come from many places of great conflict – Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan but from Africa too, including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Nigeria.

There we found there were no major NGO's involved – apart from some medical input from MSF and one or two others on a part time basis. Everything is done by grass-root groups of supporters mainly from CALAID.

It was a case of pitch in and help wherever was needed. So we unloaded, moved stuff, bagged up food parcels, and did three trips into the camp itself. You have to have a permit to enter the distribution centre and to enter the camp and we were accompanied by volunteers on each trip.

Police were at the entrance and tear gassing is a regular occurrence. Amazing to reflect the camp is two hours from Kent. The Jungle is beyond belief and comprehension – a place of utter desperation, flimsy tents liable to be burnt down by candles and cooking, mud, little sanitation, healthcare is stretched, not enough food and to cap it all, there's asbestos in the soil – reported by Channel 4 News a few weeks ago.

I had the chance to visit with a friend who was taking a van load of building supplies, old carpets, insulation, tents and ground sheets plus some clothes and food. We set off at 6am from the UK and about three hours later we arrived at the distribution centre just a few minutes away from the camp.

Just a few small tented shops along the tracks, selling a little bit of food, cafe tents where we were welcomed by a group of Syrians with coffee and chat. We carefully chatted, trying not to intrude, about their families, homes and what had happened to them.

Their mobile phones are the most precious possession because all their history is there. I was shown family homes in Homs, Damascus, Aleppo, family gatherings all taken before the bombing that had forced the refugees to flee.

A tented theatre had also recently arrived which has provided much joy and musical participation. Since my visit there is now a library, a meeting place for the women, children and unaccompanied minors and I hear there is a school. There is also a mosque. But all this is precious little in a camp of 7,000 people all with the need for food and many requiring  medical attention.

In the midst of all this I was desperate to see the church in the Jungle that I had heard about to see if it was still functioning. It is and there we met Solomon from Ethiopia who looks after St. Michael's Calais as it is known. The church is named after St. Michael the Guardian Angel who is there to protect us all.

I was completely unprepared for this encounter both with Solomon and the church. The church is a flimsy wooden structure with sheeting, it now has a small compound around it and Solomon lives next to it. He told us that around 20% of the camp is Christian and around 600 people attend there every Sunday.

I was completely unprepared for this encounter both with Solomon and the church. The church is a flimsy wooden structure with sheeting, it now has a small compound around it and Solomon lives next to it. He told us that around 20% of the camp is Christian and around 600 people attend there every Sunday.

Going inside the church was where I finally broke down when I saw the beauty and the way it was looked after – icons, candles and a few seats. I asked Solomon where the icons came from and he said simply – the camp did them. He also said God is here with us. The lesson of hope and trust was completely overwhelming.

A few weeks ago I saw a photo of people kneeling outside the church on a Sunday morning in the mud praying. So now 2016 has arrived full of hope and joy for some – for many like the refugees all over Europe the future is unknown, terrifying and appears hopeless.

Please take time to think of the refugees. Like many other conflicts and human rights injustices, this is a blot on our humanity and there needs to be much soul searching from Western Governments and their responses. I so wanted to take David Cameron there.  

Volunteers are always needed especially now after Christmas as winter continues. But I will carry with me Solomon's words and example that "God is here with us – God is in the Camp". I will be back soon to the Jungle in Calais.

Gill Hewitt
Amos Volunteer




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