Have you been in a restaurant recently and become impatient if your food has not arrived after half an hour or so? The migrants in Calais face up to a four hour wait in the sun to get their one meal of the day – so it is no wonder if tensions rise. The independent restaurants, although ‘reprieved’ by a court judgement, are still unable to cook food as this has been banned by the authorities. And at the moment, the ‘official’ kitchen only serves 3900 of the 9000+ meals actually needed if people are to eat once a day, hence the vital contribution of the other kitchens such as the ‘Refugee Community Kitchen’ which now cooks 2500 free meals per day. We were in Calais and the ‘jungle’ last week and we were able to give the kitchen €650 which had been donated by a generous parish in the North West of England. The other kitchens that provide free meals have also increased their weekly output by a total of 1000 over the past fortnight to try to compensate for the current closure of other outlets. Sadly, the ‘Belgium Kitchen’ fears that it may soon have to close down due to a lack of donations.
The kitchen estimates that at least £1.50 is needed to feed someone each day, so many thousands of pounds are needed just to keep the kitchen going for a week. Where possible, ingredients are delivered to different areas of the camp for people who have pots and pans to do their own cooking, as this provides both autonomy and a degree of dignity – but gas bottles are in short supply.
On our visit last week we were able to deliver several hundred books to ‘Jungle Books’, which is based in several shacks near the Eritrean Church, and manned by some committed volunteers. There is a keen appetite to learn and to keep informed. There are many people with professional qualifications who are keen to keep up their knowledge and learn English terminology, not least for future CV’s. Outside the shack an Adult Education Class was in full flow and youngsters were studying in another shelter. Gifts of exercise books and pencils are much appreciated.
It’s always a pleasure to visit the Eritrean Church. In this oasis of peace and tranquillity members of the Eritrean Community provide a welcome and spiritual refreshment. In front of the Church was a newly painted picture of the Virgin Mary and Christ in honour of the Assumption – attached – and at the side of the Church a young man was painting a scene of the Last Supper. In the midst of all the rubble and dirt a flower garden has been created as a contrast to the rather dismal surroundings – and there are even two chickens!
As Christmas approaches many of you will be thinking about how best to support the migrants in Calais. We are able to give advice on where cash donations can be sent. We are also planning to repeat the initiative from last year – ‘little bags of love and hope’. We are yet to establish a final list, but it is likely that typical contents could include items from the following list, suitable for the young men who make up the vast majority of the camp residents: a wind-up torch (or torch plus spare batteries), deodorant, scarf, hat, gloves (fabric or leather – not knitted) and a small pack of nuts or dried fruit. If you know of a Faith Community or other group interested in taking part in this initiative, please do let us know so that we can help to make the process as efficient and effective as possible.
With best wishes,
Phil and Ben.
About ‘Seeking Sanctuary’. There are now some 9000 migrants in and around Calais (August 2016) and many more near Dunkirk . ‘Seeking Sanctuary’ aims to raise awareness about this situation and is organising basic humanitarian assistance through Faith Communities and Community Organisations in partnership with experienced aid workers.