UM students return from Calais and Dunkirk
MAASTRICHT. Last Thursday four Italian UM students who had raised funds for the refugees headed for the ‘Jungle’ in Calais and the smaller camp at Dunkirk. Calais has been completely wiped out, says third-year law student Angelica Giombini. “It’s as if a tsunami has washed everything away. In the mud you still find left-behind clothes, shampoo and vegetables. As we walked around the area two vans with sixteen police officers immediately came over to check on us.”
At first the students – seven in total – dropped off their sixty boxes of clothes, blankets, shoes and jackets at the so-called warehouses of the local volunteer organizations. For whom? “A thousand refugees are hiding around Calais, just living on the streets”, says second-year European law student Bianca Rocca. “They got cell phones from the volunteer organizations and are supposed to call if they need anything, then the volunteers will bring it. But not many people have called them yet.”
Then the Italians headed for the smaller camp in Dunkirk. Giombini: “This camp officially claims to have 800 but in fact has 1200 refugees, mostly Kurds from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was set up by the government last March, but the living conditions are as bad as they were in Calais. People live in wooden sheds on a muddy ground. There’s nothing to do. The police only provides security, no food or heating.”
There are six volunteer associations that cater to the migrants’ primary needs. Rocca: “They sometimes disagree on how to organize things. It’s kind of chaotic. But that’s understandable when most of the helpers are short-term volunteers, they come and go.”
The UM students never felt threatened and helped to cook and distribute meals and buy food, drinks and other supplies in the supermarket. They spent most of the 4300 euros that people had donated to them. They also interviewed volunteers, locals and police officers. “It was striking that some officers and locals started talking about the French Revolution”, says Giombini. “Young men shouldn’t flee their country but stay and fight their government, just as the French did in 1789. Also, they’re critical of the economic refugees in Dunkirk, who are costing the government money.”
The camp was more depressing than Giombini thought. “It’s completely dehumanized, it feels and looks like a prison. The sheds are all the same, two by two metres, and contain nothing, no lamp, chair, shelf, nothing. It’s like a doghouse. I was glad about every spark of humanity I noticed. Children playing together or refugees helping one another. It was touching to see a flower that someone had planted outside a shed, trying to express their humanity.”
Rocca felt at once sad but cheerful when she saw a group of children dancing with two volunteers. It was raining and muddy everywhere. Some Kurdish men joined them later. “They were celebrating that a family with four children had managed to get into the UK. They all share this same dream.”
The students want to expand the project to refugees in general, and perhaps send Maastricht students out in shifts to places where they are most needed.
The French government plans to close the Dunkirk camp in March and allocate the refugees to other places.