Ordinary people putting their lives on hold to help refugees

General view of the Calais 'Jungle' migrant camp
Alex Moran decided to help at the 'Jungle' after spending just two days there

Emily Commander tells the moving stories of three groups of people from different parts of the country who decided to do what they could to help.

The Jungle camp in Calais made daily headlines on both sides of the Channel in the days and weeks before it was evacuated at the end of October 2016. 

But it was just the most notorious place in France where refugees fleeing conflict and deprivation ended up. 

Welcome to the Jungle

Everyone has heard of the “Jungle”, the sprawling makeshift refugee camp occupied by about 9,100 refugees according to a ‘census’ carried out by volunteers in September 2016, although this number is contested by the French government.

The camp was made up of an ever-changing assortment of refugees of all ages from some of the most troubled places on the planet. When they arrived, they were exhausted after travelling thousands of miles, sometimes on foot. Many saw it as a halfway house; a place to rest and regroup before beginning the next stage of their journey.

It was a source of political wrangling and controversy. Some of the town’s inhabitants said that it disrupted local businesses, and led to increased crime and social unrest.

The far right seized upon its presence to demand a reduction in immigration levels. Some argued that the UK should deal with it, since the final stated destination of many of the refugees was Britain. None of this, as volunteers were quick to point out, changed the grinding hardship of the daily reality of its inhabitants.

It was so large that it was difficult to see what meaningful difference anyone could make there. And yet, individuals of different political and world views from both the UK and France put their own lives on hold to try to improve the circumstances of the camp’s inhabitants.

Volunteers building a shelter at the Calais Jungle
Volunteers build flat-pack shelters at the Jungle

Carpenter Alex Moran first visited the camp after meeting someone who was travelling there. It was winter. “The scene was apocalyptic,” the 37-year-old said. “There was thick mud everywhere and people were staggering around in it without shoes.”

The camp was built on an old landfill site so the mud was ‘quite toxic,’ said Alex. “It looked more like a third world slum than a refugee camp,” he said. “Everything was ramshackle and makeshift.”

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