What they found in Calais: Paris students are inspired by shanty town

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CALAIS A young person’s experience – Summer 2015 (account circulated by Secours Catholique Emergency Services)

When we approached Secours Catholique to take part in the ‘Youth Solidarity Summer’, we didn’t know what to expect. We gathered some shreds of information from the media, but nothing precise. Despite this vague solidarity, we decided to take part in the project because we knew that it would be beneficial not only from the humanitarian viewpoint but would make links. In fact, with Manon who also left for Calais, we have created a solidarity group at the Sorbonne, called ‘You Are’. So we made up our minds with great enthusiasm to set off for Calais in the You Are spirit, in partnership with Secours Catholique.

So 5 members of You Are took part in this amazing project, Solidarity Summer. We were on tenterhooks for the 90 minutes in the train between Paris and Calais. So many questions buzzed in our heads. How would we be useful? What does a political refugee camp look like?

Arriving at last at Calais Frethun station, we had warm welcome from the amazing volunteer, Maryam. So began the most influential and magnificent experience of our lives. After a few minutes, the vague solidarity disappeared rapidly. Taking the slip road off the motorway, we discovered the sad reality, the ‘New Jungle’. A shanty town filled with rubbish bags did duty for houses. A shanty town with flimsy mosques and churches of cardboard. The New Jungle comprises nearly 3000 political refugees fleeing death.

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During the two weeks of volunteering, we met wonderful human beings, so full of hope: Sudanese, Afghans, Eritreans, Syrians, Iraqis, Ethiopians, Iranians, who all wanted one thing, to be alive. To live without the noise of bombs and guns. To live in the security and hope of a better life.
Thanks to the Secours Catholique volunteers, we had been told about their status and expecially their wishes. In fact these thousands of people just want acknowledgement of their misfortune. This recognition would become a reality by their obtaining the precious right of asylum.

We had many aims during this ‘solidarity journey’. Since we were part of the emergency mission created by several organisations concerned about the human problems these refugees are suffering, our days were divided into various activities. As part of the mission, Secours Catholique had to distribute canvas kits, that is, canvas, nails and wood, to ensure a roof for the refugees. So we would cut the canvas in the morning, and give it out in the afternoon. These mornings made us realise the preparation to actual construction on the ground, and we met in this team volunteers from the four corners of France: adults determined to help their neighbours. As young people in the middle of this group, we were given a new angle on this project. There were doctors, retired people, people from the liberal professions, and the young. A winning team!

But the mornings were also educational, since French lessons were taught to the Sudanese in their beautiful school. Thanks to these lessons we made incredible links with them, real family links. We then spent the afternoons giving out the kits at the Secours Catholique reception. Here the migrants top up their mobiles, call their relatives, or talk to us volunteers.

At 5pm with our Secours Catholique jackets, we would give out meals at New Salam. In the middle of Ramadan, it was not crowded. In fact the migrants were tired with their situation and tired through fasting. But Ramadan is a happy feast: twice we broke fast with the women at the Jules Ferry centre: a ‘Break Fast’ piled with Sudanese food, a moment out of this world.

When we had time, we would rush to the centre to play with the children. One, Two, Three, Sun! A universal game with no language problems.

During these two weeks with Secours Catholique, we met exceptional people, whether volunteers of all the charities or the migrants. We felt all the emotions: Joy – the joy of seeing all the smiles, all the faces lit up with a thirst for life; Fear – The fear when a refugee tells you that tonight he will try to get to England; Hope – Hope at the idea that little by little the charities are moving things on; Admiration – admiration for these stories of life, though these people have lived through hell, who have faced death, and who, in spite of all, share everything with you; Love – we felt loved, protected by these refugees. We also felt affection and respect for them. For all these women, men, children who had travelled 10,000 kilometres in the hope of a better life.

Manon, Margot, Rawa, Mathilde and Ilham as well as You Are, wish to thank all the persons they met during these 2 weeks. Thanks to all the refugees who trusted us and entrusted themselves to us, putting words to their sufferings. They taught us much. Thanks to Secours Catholique, we opened a window onto a fraught world, but which was nevertheless filled with joy and friendship. As they say so well, ‘Inshallah’,God willing.

Ilham Mraizika

 

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