Recently, Associate Artist Anna Murphy returned to Dunkirk with friends to offer help to those left behind from the closure of the Jungle. Anna wrote us a letter about her time there.
In the last week of November Rob Higgs, Finn Williams, Amy Stevens, Alfie Munden and myself set out for Dover.
The night before, we loaded the van with some of the following on the quay of a Penryn boat-yard:
Wood-burners that were once gas bottles, ladders from the Hansel and Gretel set to be re-born as part of a children’s playground, spices, pumpkins, tins, socks, jumpers, sleeping bags, blankets, rice and other gifts of collected generosity.
We were delivering this aid, and the more practical amongst us hoped to repair and restore equipment on the Dunkirk refugee camp and to lend a hand in the Auberge Des Migrant in Calais.
But also, to bear witness, to see what had changed since last we were there, and hear the stories in order to pass them on.
The first thing that hits Rob and I when we make it through customs in Calais (we were searched of course) is the flattened Jungle.
Gone are the tents, packing case Eritrean churches, Mosques, The Three Idiots café, the shops, rats, huddled fires, trees.
Left is the fence, tear-gas shells and a wide expanse where 6000 souls once sought shelter. Now, they are scattered over France hoping to seek Asylum, but they need an address to seek asylum, and who will give them an address if they have no asylum? And how can they get asylum if they have no address? And. And. And.
In the Auberge, Amy and I cut and sort wood in the Calais Wood Yard project. The wood comes from dumps, builders merchants, donated, scavenged. It’s sorted and sawed and is destined for cooking , community spaces and outside the shelters in Dunkirk camp.
We help load a vast pan-technican with aid destined for Greece, Paris, Syria and pockets of disparate camps of those who left the Jungle, but did not get on the buses to receptions centres.
The van , driver, fork lift trucks are provided by Help For Refugees. It’s good to see where some of the Lucky Button monies may have gone. The Auberge is still mostly run by volunteers, mostly young, I think I’m the oldest.
Rob , Alfie and Fin continue to install, repair and restore in Dunkirk.
On the last day we all go to Dunkirk.
There are no tents, only windowless huts in rows, numbered. Images of more historical camps come to mind. But it is not those. I haven’t yet seen a rat, no mud to mention. There are clean toilets and showers, so that basic dignity is restored. There is a children’s centre, a small library, some community spaces.
People are fed, or can cook.
There is little of the anarchic art of the jungle. No Good-Chance tent or food for the soul.
But it does not smell of shit. Or burning plastic . Or tear gas.
We hear though, that many of the un- accompanied children would rather be in the Jungle than where they are now.
The Government won't disclose figures but approx 300 have arrived so far out of 1600, with a probability of abouthalf being granted asylum so that's 150 in practice. Less than a tenth then.
Amy and I recognize a bag of wood we cut.
People are gathered around Rob’s stoves.
A beautiful Kurdish woman insists on washing our dinner plates. She has a wide smile and asks us were we are from. She tells us she hopes to be there one day.
Fin and Alfie put up a shelter to keep the queues for food dry.
We are all given a delicious flat-bread made by the Kurdish chefs.
It warms our hands on this cold, bright day.