Calais (FR), Aug 2016. Europe’s largest refugee camp stands today on a sandy landfill site in Northern France just outside Calais, a key transit point on the last leg of the European Migrant Route leading to the UK. According to reports by Help Refugees, more than 10000 asylum seekers live here while seeking the perspective of a normal life away from war and persecutions. As the crisis deepens and every day is marked by hundreds of new arrivals, French and EU authorities seem to maintain an indifferent and inefficient stance towards the emergency.

Every night migrants are confronted with the choice of risking their lives trying to cross the Channel illegally or to stay behind and live in unhealthy and unsafe conditions; often for months. Inside the camp, life is harsh. Nonetheless, its residents strive in order to set up normal daily routines and promote a sense of community, through commercial and leisure activities such as makeshift restaurants and shops. At the same time, NGOs provide support where the Jungle's self-management cannot reach, for example representing a point of reference for the collection, management, and redistribution of donations.

Furthermore, volunteers actively look after the safety and well-being of the Jungle's residents, while advocating for their rights and spreading awareness about their condition. Asylum seekers greatly rely on their help for legal advice, medical assistance, as well as education. The latter especially important for many vulnerable subjects such as minors and women, who make up about 10% of the Jungle's population.

In face of the lack of support from gov't institutions, grassroots action covers a fundamental role in compensating for the currently flawed top-down humanitarian emergency management system. In a moment in history where Europe seems reluctant in endorsing the refugees cause, their work shows how independent and direct action become important means of support, empowerment and advocacy for those who are left unheard and excluded by diplomacy and red tape.


© Mattia Alunni Cardinali
© Mattia Alunni Cardinali