Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Swelling numbers

Ok, so today isn't going to be a nice anecdotal story about what I was up too, some cool people I met, or what I cooked, it's going to be about the the worsening situation.

Numbers are swelling, and not by a little bit here and there, they are starting to jump up on a day by day basis as the weather is getting a bit better. I've kind of talked in general terms about the setup, but thought I'd take some time this evening to properly focus on it. The main camp we cook for is Dunkirk, and then we supply food to some other organisations who do outreach work. Dunkirk is officially not growing according to the government, they have built a fixed number of shelters (all full to bursting) and then we have to community kitchens which are now home to 100's of men who are unable to get a shelter unit as they are reserved for families, or full already. I'm not quite sure the exact amount of people in camp, a guess would be 1.5k to 1.8k, but there are no plans to build any more shelters, despite the fact they are desperately needed. So that's the camp, it's run by the government and as such has police, security, and some amenities. Away from the camp there are lot's of little splinter camps that have been setup, these are 'illegal', and in many cases just people sleeping in tents, or sleeping bags in the woods.  We send food out to these guys via other charities we work with, this is 'outreach'. While the amount of food we send to Dunkirk has remained stable, the amount of food boxes we are producing for outreach is growing, and not just by a little bit. When I first got here a month ago, we were doing maybe 15 boxes at lunch and 30/40 in the evening, plus enough food in a large container for about 30 people who get it via a group called Secour Catholic. Today that number stands at 100 lunch boxes, 150 dinner boxes, and food for about 200 via Secour Catholic, plus then the 500 to 700 meals we send to camp. Those numbers are growing on a daily basis, it's quite frankly terrifying. 

Many of the numbers are people who are arriving now the weather is getting a bit better to try and make the crossing, but there's another side to it too. When the jungle was demolished all of the unaccompanied minors were sent to children's'centers across the country, and were told to wait it out there while their paperwork was handled by the UK government, who had agreed to take in 3000 of them. Whilst these centers aren't ideal, they are much safer than camp and at least had hot showers, beds etc. Since Theresa May reduced those numbers to 350, all of these kids, and they are kids, have realized that they aren't going to be able to get into the UK, so have run away from the centers to head back up this way, on the hope of being able to jump a lorry or train and make the crossing. It's pretty obvious this is really dangerous for so many reasons. Number one, the camp isn't safe. Sexual assault, is a real problem, both for men and women, especially if you are young and can't fight them off. Then there is the crossing itself. People are dying trying to jump on trains or lorries. Many of them will get caught over and over, get a beating from the cops, get sent to the detention centers, and then put back out of the streets/camp. It's an endless cycle, with danger at every turn. This also plays right into the hands of the people smugglers, they can now say there is no way you're going to get in unless you pay us, so the situation is getting worse, and worse. 

A guy I know, who I'll refer to here as 'H', got badly beaten up last week for being friendly with the volunteers. He used to come and give us feedback on the food, and was one of the happiest guys in camp, but the mafia see this as a threat as he might pass on information which could get back to the cops, and he got smashed up. We had a meeting today about the dangers in camp, and it made me realize that I need to maybe act slightly differently around some of the guys I'm friends with in camp, for their safety. The last thing I want to do is be responsible for getting someone I care about in trouble with the gangs/mafia that operate in camp and put their lives in danger. We were also briefed on what to do if we get in into a situation with the CRS (riot cops). If they CS spray us, which has happened in the past when volunteers have seen them abusing minors, we can get up to 2 years in jail just for putting our hands up to block the spray. Same if they punch us, we can't try and block it or it's assaulting a police officer, and again, that would mean jail-time. Whilst this doesn't happen as much as it did in the Jungle, it does still happen.

Ooooft, this is a long and depressing update, and to cap it off there is a storm blowing outside. Whilst my days are normally filled with happy smiley people, it's times like this when I'm sat in my trailer reflecting that the enormity and helplessness of the situation really kicks in. I've made the decision to stay for longer, and now will just head back to the UK to work some festivals in order to fund me staying out here on a slightly more permanent basis across 2017 (back permitting). As such here's my bi-weekly funding ask, should you be able to spare a few quid, please sling it over at this link: 



T x 

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