One of the organisations we support in the Calais refugee camp is Baloo’s Youth Centre. Baloo’s has provided a safe place for boys aged 12 – 18 to relax, play and learn while they live in the camp. As the demolition races on, the centre has found itself behind police lines and unable to operate. This is an update from the team on how they’ve been affected and how they’re determined to continue.
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The forced evictions of the Southern Sector are in full swing. Eight days of demolition have completely changed the image of the camp and huge sections of the Jungle once bustling with human life are now bare save the litter of personal belongings lost in the upheaval of this displacement. Although a number of communal spaces have been left untouched, as promised by the eviction court case, many have been forced to close by the instability created.
Our mission at the Youth Centre was to create a child friendly space, a refuge for the 12 – 18 year old boys in the camp to come and escape the realities of Jungle life. The chaos of recent events has made the Centre all the more important, a place out of harm’s way where the boys can come and be safe. Despite fires burning on both sides of our building, we remained open to bring a sense of normalcy to the boys in an effort to protect their wellbeing. However this was finally shattered when on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week the police forced us to close as they were demolishing the shelters in our immediate area. With our doors shut we had to witness many of our boys wandering aimlessly around the camp in-between riot police lines and burning shelters.
Although the police have now advanced beyond our building allowing us to reopen once more, we still have problems of accessibility as we have to negotiate past their line of defence each day. This is the same for the boys and we worry that many will now not come due to the intimidation of the riot police in our area. With this in mind, combined with the fact that the Southern section has become extremely unstable, we plan to relocate our building to the North. However, the dismantling and rebuilding of the Centre could take as long as one week and with nowhere else for teenage boys to go for protection our concerns are for their safety during this time. We also know the North is just a temporary solution. Once the southern section is cleared, eviction orders for the North are expected to be issued.
(Pictures of the Youth Centre before, during and after the demolition)
While the Youth Centre was closed, Baloo’s staff worked alongside the Help Refugees teams to coordinate the relocation of unaccompanied minors in the areas affected by the demolition. Using our tracking and monitoring system we were able to establish their movements in order to determine who needed to be rehoused immediately. However, it is important to note that although these relocations are essential to get the children out of harms way, they are only temporary solutions and a move to the North of the camp will only result in further trauma and displacement when that area is evicted. It is imperative that a long-term solution is made that will cater to the needs of these unaccompanied minors. We are already seeing children disappear as they are forced to leave their homes and as they disperse around Northern France and Europe they are very vulnerable to exploitation. It fells like the world has turned its back on these boys. They are cold, scared and lonely and the trauma of the last two weeks is having a terrifying affect on their wellbeing. They have suffered horrendously in their home countries, they have suffered horrendously on their journey and now they suffer horrendously amongst the burning houses and tear gas of the Jungle. It is fast becoming a lost generation and if the world does not do something soon, we fear they will be lost forever.
Note from Help Refugees: We are fighting hard to bring this matter to the attention of British politicians. You can too. Please write to your MP, to your MEP and to the House of Lords who will be reviewing the Immigration Bill next week and ask them to ensure the unaccompanied minors in France are included as part of the 3000 children Britain has indicated they may accept. We have a moral duty as a nation to take responsibility and provide care to these boys.
We would not be able to do our work without your support and kindness. Many of the refugees we help are fleeing the conflict zones of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. Others are trying to escape political oppression in countries like Eritrea. All are human beings like us. As well as providing immediate physical assistance, we want to help refugees maintain their dignity.
Please click through if you would like to find out more about our work in Calais, Dunkirk, Lesvos, Samos, Idomeni and other locations. If you would like to know how you can help refugees, please check out our Get Involved section where you can find out how to fundraise for us and how to make a donation. Thank you!