basile simon things


From Dunkirk to the Jungle a visit to the refugee camps

Dover to Dunkirk ferry
Minutes after leaving Dover harbour, warships emerged on the horizon. President Putin's fleet was sailing through the Channel. This convoy from Hell, made up of 20 ships and led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, was on its way to bomb Aleppo from the Mediterranean Sea.
The use of dumb bombs and the alleged deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure [1] will likely cause more populations to flee the Middle East - and end up in Europe.

Grande Synthe camp, Dunkirk

In March 2016, Médecins Sans Frontières with the help of Grande Synthe council (that put 500,000€ on the table) built shelters for the Kurdish community staying there [2]. The camp is home to roughly 1,000 - a figure that even local NGOs and volunteers are unable to confirm.

The 200 shelters sleep four and are heated. The camp has running water, showers and toilets, as well as power sockets to charge mobile phones. Residents have decorated their shelters with colourful graffitis and messages of hope - in contrast with the grey gravel road passing through the camp.

The camp owes its survival partly to GWK, a German charity that set up and runs a community kitchen. After noticing that few residents came to the first kitchen, NGO workers began to wonder what was going on. It turned out that the residents did not like the food, and so the local talent was asked to join in. Since then, the Kurdish chefs take part in preparing, cooking, and serving the food. The combined work of the volunteers feed the camp today.

Emmaus, a poverty and homelessness charity founded by Abbé Pierre in 1949, organises food distributions.

At a makeshift school, we met British volunteers and charity workers who run English and French classes. They provide assistance with translation and paperwork.

The Jungle, Calais

A most uncomfortable feeling loomed over the Jungle, a day before its dismantling by the French authorities. NGO and charitee workers were packing and leaving the camp to its fate, as the police prepared the evacuation by bus of the thousands of migrants staying in Calais.

To prevent migrants from cutting holes in the fences that protect the access to Calais port, a concrete wall is being erected along the highway.

As in Grande Synthe, there is a school in the Jungle. It is run by volunteers and NGOs. All of them had to leave before the next day, we were told, since only registered workers were allowed to stay in the camp during the dismantlement. "I'm not registering with the Government, no way," one of them told us.

Inside the camp, we found many shacks that burned down. As the evacuation was under way, the media would publish many more pictures of plumes of smoke over the Jungle, as shelters were burned down.

On the doors of the Jungle's main road 72 shops, stores and restaurants, the police placarded the ruling of the Conseil d'État, France's highest administrative court. This ruling confirmed their eviction [3].

Deemed dangerous because of the fire hazard and the poor sanitary conditions, the court overruled the first ruling requesting the removal of the shops and cafés. The Ministry of the Interior opposed this. "The sale of instruments that could be used as weapons [has] favoured tensions and violent behaviours in the area," the Conseil d'État decided.

The previous court had cancelled the evictions, as the judge considered that the stores provided for "unsatisfied needs in terms of food, first necessity products and services." These installations were considered "important places for migrants to live and meet."

The Jungle flanks the road to the port, where many lorries come to board England-bound ferries. A 16ft (5m) fence, topped with razor wire, CCTV, and powerful light beams, guards the motorway.

The evening before, we drove to the port in a lorry. Police cars were parked along the road, blue gyros on, and police in riot gear stood watch. Clashes erupted later in the evening [4].

[1] A reckless disregard for civlian lives (PDF) report by Airwars, March 2016
[2] Migrants : combien coûte un camp comme celui de Grande-Synthe (French)
[3] Le Conseil d’Etat valide l’expulsion des commerces de la « jungle » de Calais (French)
[4] Calais migrants: Clashes ahead of ‘Jungle’ closure

back to the photo galeries