Find out about our work in Calais – and how you can help
Help Refugees started as nothing more than a hashtag #HelpCalais in August 2015 as a group of friends looked to raise £1000 and collect donations to take down to Calais. Within a week, we had raised over £50,000 and had partnered with L’Auberge des Migrants to start the biggest aid operation in Northern France.
Through the sheer graft of tens of thousands of volunteers, our warehouse grew from nothing but piles of food and clothes into a well-oiled machine. Collectively, we filled gaps left by large NGOs and the Governments on both sides of the Channel with a fraction of the budget. Help Refugees built more than 1,500 shelters in our first 6 months in the ‘Jungle’. We helped to feed thousands of refugees every day, always keeping their dignity at the forefront of our efforts.
By mobilising the refugee community and involving our beneficiaries in the decisions made about them, we created the kind of infrastructure everyone thought was impossible for an illegal refugee camp. We conducted a monthly census in the camp until its closure, creating a constantly updated list of vulnerable people and children to be referred to relevant services.
“I’ve sourced bedding, clothing and hygiene items for about 10.000 refugees though over the course of this time it might be double that number. And I’ve called attention to the injustice and the failure to fulfill basic obligations by the French and UK governments as well as the EU. Brothers and sisters, we have a world to win, and nothing to lose but our preconceived notions of each other. Reach out, talk, help, learn, sing, listen, dance, be quiet, cook, eat, share, laugh, cry… live. You don’t gain hope by sitting by yourself and wishing the world was more hopeful.
You gain hope by trying and finding other people that are also trying!“
Renke Meuwese, long-term Help Refugees volunteer in Calais
Though the Calais ‘Jungle’ was demolished in October 2016 and the Dunkirk camp burnt down in April 2017, our team on the ground estimates that there are now more than 1,500 people living in the forests in Northern France. Our volunteers work tirelessly to provide them with essential supplies every single day, while numbers are growing and provisions are often dwindling.
Of the refugees who are still in Calais, more than 6 months after the demolition, at least 200 are unaccompanied children. Along with Refugee Youth Service and L’Auberge des Migrants, we have created a multi-agency Child Protection team in order to supplement the already overwhelmed system in the region. Made up of volunteers as well as an employed French social worker, juriste and native speakers who have gained refugee status in France, the team builds relationships of trust with the young people and is a constant presence they can rely on. We are committed to upholding children’s rights and advocating for them to be respected, holding the French and British Governments to account and making children’s voices heard.
Our teams still distribute thousands of items every week, from 1000 blankets and sleeping bags, to hundreds of hygiene kits, clothing and countless shoes. While it is impossible for people to settle, and refugees are facing increasing aggression from the police, our services continue to be a lifeline for some of the most vulnerable people in Europe.