A JUNGLE BUILT ON THE SAND


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 the latest report by Help Refugees, almost 10000 asylum seekers currently live there while seeking the perspective of a normal life away from war and persecutions. However, French and EU authorities have been so far slow and inefficient in responding to this emergency, and every night hundreds risk their lives trying to cross the Channel illegally. In the meantime, many others find themselves stuck in Calais living in dire, unhealthy, and unsafe conditions, often for months.

Inside the Jungle living is harsh. Nonetheless, its residents strive in order to set up some kind of normality promoting a sense of community in makeshift restaurants and shops. At the same time, NGOs too provide support where refugees’ self-management cannot reach, while also representing a means for donations to reach the Jungle. In this regard, NGOs have covered numerous key roles in the camp since it first appeared, looking after the well-being of its residents and advocating for their rights, spreading awareness about the migrants’ condition.

Therefore, asylum seekers greatly rely on their presence for legal advice, medical assistance, the distribution of food and clothes, as well as for entertainment and education. This becomes especially important for vulnerable people such as minors and women, who often travel alone and become easy targets of violence and abuse. With so few resources and little space to share, this aspect cannot be underestimated as such poor living conditions offer crime optimal circumstances for thriving.

In this sense, NGOs have been praised for their work in compensating for the lack of response shown by state and EU authorities. The Jungle example shows how grassroots action becomes an important means of support, empowerment and advocacy for those who are left marginalised and cannot speak up for themselves. Especially in a moment in history where Europe seems resilient in endorsing the refugee’s cause, NGOs have become central to the migratory question and in compensating for the often flawed top-down humanitarian emergency management system.

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© Mattia Alunni Cardinali 2022
© Mattia Alunni Cardinali 2022