Security and Solidarity

2016 has been quite a year for the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp. All the stuff that had happened was in the collective mind of the team from St Albans’ Emmaus as they set off at 7.00 for the ferry on Sunday 17 July 2016. Perhaps – they wondered – the constant media attention on migrants might have led to more donations in the camp, perhaps even better conditions? Well, no. But it did seem harder to cross the border in this post-Brexit world. So much so, in fact, that whilst one Emmaus van and one minibus just about squeezed on to the delayed ferry (despite arriving with 1 hour to spare) a second Emmaus van missed it, catching up later. Not as bad as a week later, however, when queues to Dover reached 8 hours, all because of increased security checks.


  • 25 February: French judge rules that plans to demolish large part of camp are legal. Consequent police bulldozing of tents and shelters, with reports of violent clashes. Before and after pictures here and here.
  • 9 March: Converted shipping containers provided by government. Despite better conditions, many refuse to stay in them because of locked and fenced conditions, and fingerprint-only enter and exit access.
  • 10 April: Emmaus St Albans receive John Thompson award in recognition of outstanding acts of solidarity, supporting displaced migrants in Calais and fellow communities within Emmaus movement.
  • 18 June: British volunteers in a ‘Convoy for Calais’ of 200 vans from all over UK (though not Emmaus St Albans) turned back at Dover by French authorities. Clare Moseley from Care4Calais says: “We are desperate for donations at the moment, we are struggling to cope.” She adds: “We needed this.”
  • 23 June: Days after UKIP leader Nigel Farage released his now-infamous ‘Breaking Point’ poster depicting migrants crossing Europe, the UK votes to leave the European Union.
  • 14 July: During Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, France, a man drives through a crowd, killing more than 80 people. France’s security sensitivities increase, already high because of recent Charlie Hebdo shootings and Paris attacks. Dover-Calais border crossing has security hiked up and delays result.

Over in Calais, security is tighter too (although arguably it has been since the active presence of police post-demolitions.) Gone are the days of pulling up casually by some tents and opening up your car boot. Now, all vehicles entering have to show an official letter from an organisation proving they are legit. The St Albans team gets this from the charity Care4Calais, which it visits pre-camp as a matter of course, to drop off donations. The two charities have worked together for some time, and it’s clear that Clare’s warning in June was right. There are more local volunteers now, but donations have dropped: The Emmaus crew was dismayed to see that both warehouses are almost empty.

The St Albans group, a mixture of staff, companions and volunteers, all immediately start playing their part to fill the warehouses. They work under orders from Care4Calais volunteers, but most know what they’re doing and the group can work independently, efficiently unloading foods down lines from one van. There are boxes with breads, tins and


Unpacking donations from St Albans at the Care4Calais warehouse

more, donated by Emmaus Colchester and even Ocado, amongst others. Many companions, like Robert, Pan and Anthony, have been visiting the camp for around a year; others were recently persuaded after visiting an exhibition in London called ‘Call Me By Name’. The exhibition featured a short film about one camp resident (‘Alpha’) known to the group for his art pieces of Emmaus founder, Abbé Pierre. Alpha’s camp shelter had a distinctive thatched roof and the letters H O M E in front. It has since been demolished.


Distributing together from the container inside the camp

Rather than drive into the camp with a van, the first distribution was done from a Care4Calais container already in place in the camp. Working hand-in-hand with Care4Calais, Emmaus volunteers distribute pre-organised packs filled with equal amounts of toiletries and underwear. The permanent position of the container obviously creates consistency: a line gathered quickly and calmly, with an almost jovial atmosphere in the July sun. As a result of the success, the team had a coffee in a nearby tent. The coffee shop owner seemed to have a toy and teddybear decoration theme with an ingenious flooring system: tarpaulin stretched over wooden pallets.

One thing was noticeable after the first distribution: The length of the queue. It’s usual that there will still be people waiting after things run out, but not that they’re actually still joining the queue. However, the same thing happened during the second distribution. Straight from the back of Emmaus van, 150 identical hooded sweaters were given out, purchased by the St Albans team, bought with donations raised just through word of mouth. £300 was given by Emmaus Gloucester and one local lady gave £700. But why the long queues? Alice, a Care4Calais volunteer, estimated that there are around 30 volunteers still joining the camp each day, and there may be as many as 7000 residents. Even since the demolitions? “Yeah,” she says, “but just in half the space.” This cramming together has blurred lines between sections of the camp. Areas informally called the Sudanese section, the Eritrean section, the Afghan section, and so on, are no more. No matter where you go in the camp, the queues are now ethnically mixed.


Queues at the second distribution

After lunch and distributions were over, the group headed back to Care4Calais in its disparate vehicles. Companion Lee’s vehicle seemed a little heavier than expected, and a quick check at the warehouse revealed 9 unexpected guests in the back. Lee was surprised the migrants had entered the van without being noticed, since he had apparently parked right next to a French police van in the camp. The migrants, perhaps Ethiopian or Sudanese, were obviously a little disappointed for not making it through to the UK, but asked only for water; unsurprising on a hot day. It would have been much hotter all the way across in the ferry. Lee gave them water and drove them back to the camp.


A camp resident gives a peace sign

On his return, the team teased him about his strange day (missing the ferry, etc.) but something told him to check underneath the van. Sure enough, Robert spotted movement rigged up high in the axis of the truck: a young Afghan man. Covered in black grease marks, his first on coming down was, again, a request was water. Like the others, he was quiet with a disappointed look on his face.


A final twist in the tale. Both vans were checked thoroughly by the French police on the way back. The officer speaking to Lee was particularly abrupt. “Where are the migrants? It smells like migrants.” Queues delayed the group in Calais for an extra hour, so regardless of the method, it’s clear extra security checks are being done.

A strange ending to a sunny day. One thing is clear: the need remains, perhaps more desperately than ever.


The team outside the ‘3 Idiots’ restaurant: Alice (C4C), Anthony, Robert, Tony, Shirley, Dave (Hull), Jenny, Nicola, Michael, Becky, Pan, Lin, Hameed. [Lee, Kieran, Damien on walkabout]

Emmaus St Albans Calais visits this year:

New year’s day

Sunday 14th Feb

Sunday 1st May

Sunday 17th July

We need donations for the next one!



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