South London Photographer: With Just Shelter in Northern France

Views my own

It’s hard to know how to begin this blog. In the last year so much has happened in and away from the UK, and that moment in 2015 when Alan Kurdi’s body triggered a wave of empathy followed by supportive action in the west seems a long time ago. Today we are bombarded by news telling us the UK is intolerant of non-British born people; the only way we can move forward is in a state of isolation. And that our nation is split between those who want closed borders and those who prefer for them to remain open. I think we should be wary of what our own politicians tell us about who we think we might be.

Last year the well-publicised Calais refugee camp, the Jungle, was razed and just a few months ago the official camp in Dunkirk was burned and destroyed. Yet people have been traveling from all over the world to Northern France in the hope of coming to the UK for more 20 years and despite state sponsored efforts to stop the trend, people continue to arrive. Knowing that I travel to the area with Earlsfield based organisation, Just Shelter, people constantly ask me what is happening over there. Some say, “but what has it got to do with us? Why should it be our responsibility?” There are arguments to suggest it has a great deal to do with us and our imperial history has much to answer for. Nevertheless, human beings are living in fields, right next to motorways and hidden behind shopping centres in Northern France, with virtually nothing. Existing as if in the Middle Ages long before there was anything like a Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Simply hoping the issue is going to go away isn’t working. Bombs continue to fall in far away places. Temperatures keep rising making some countries uninhabitable. People continue to drown in the Mediterranean as they flee towards a better life. The figure for drownings just this year is 1,650 people. (June, 2017)

Many do want to help. But this issue is almost off the news radar for now. And so  charities based in France are struggling to find volunteers and funds to feed people. Just Shelter continues to raise awareness and money and you can find out how you can help by visiting their Facebook page.

Here are some of my impressions from my time there as I travelled with Just Shelter last Sunday.

Images (c)SJField 2017

Just Shelter June 2017-0800-2
Just Shelter volunteers are briefed at the beginning of the day by a long term Help Refugees volunteer
Just Shelter June 2017-0506
Just Shelter volunteers pack food parcels in a carpark near Dunkirk with volunteers from Help Refugees Children
Just Shelter June 2017-0824
An image of a smiling child looks down on volunteers as they help, reminding them of why they are there.
Just Shelter June 2017-0810-2
Adele, a volunteer we met in Calais, and Laura who joined Just Shelter for the day working together in the kitchen
Just Shelter June 2017-0807
The authorities are being more exacting and demanding of people and organisations who run the warehouse, but it was good to see some of the improvements and a newly ordered warehouse. They will be well prepared as numbers increase.
Just Shelter June 2017-0819
Biscuits were being prepared for an Eid supper when we visited.
Just Shelter June 2017-0841
Children are children wherever you go in the world and treats are a welcome distraction.
Just Shelter June 2017-0842
People cooking are all wearing what you’d expect them to when preparing food in the warehouse.
Just Shelter June 2017-0848
Chichu was volunteering for a week and we met him on his very first day. He was pleased to be there.
Just Shelter June 2017-0858
Elle from Help Refugees Children and Vanessa who heads up Just Shelter putting together children’s lunch packs. Many refugees arrive in France with hardly anything and money is scarce.

The rest of the images are taken in an odd no-man’s land just off a motorway slip road where a number of people, including children, are living; some in tents, some without any cover. It is one of several spots in Calais where people can be found living without any of the most basic requirements most of us take for granted. One of Just Shelter’s partners, Help Refugees Children took arts and crafts for the children but adults also enjoyed some of the activities. Ways to alleviate endless boredom is always welcome.

Just Shelter June 2017-0873Just Shelter June 2017-0887Just Shelter June 2017-0881Just Shelter June 2017-0938Just Shelter June 2017-0934Just Shelter June 2017-0944Just Shelter June 2017-0947Just Shelter June 2017-0909Just Shelter June 2017-0949Just Shelter June 2017-0953

Reference:

Townsend, M 2017. Mediterranean death rate doubles as migrant crossings fall. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/03/mediterranean-refugees-migrants-deaths (Accessed 28/06/2017)

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