Communicating, improving and giving voice to the lived experiences of displaced young people in and around Calais
As of early 2016, it is estimated that around 4,000 refugees live in Calais, in a makeshift camp called ‘the Jungle’ (UNHCR, 2016). Calais and its surroundings have been the temporary residence of refugees for more than a decade, but since 2014 numbers in the settlement have rapidly increased. Most of the displaced individuals living in Calais come from Somalia, Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, Afghanistan and South Sudan (Reinisch, 2015).
Calais is increasingly the subject of many news report in the UK, either because of its difficult living conditions, or because of the changes implemented by the French government, such as bulldozing part of the makeshift camp and setting up more permanent container units (Teff, 2016; UNHCR, 2016). The living conditions in the makeshift camp have been the concern of many international organisations, and a study by the University of Birmingham remarks that refugees ‘are living in perilous conditions, which are significantly contributing to their ill-health and injury’ (Dhesi, Isakjee and Davies, 2015: 1).
For many, staying in Calais is a result of their wish to settle in the UK, with many having connections or family members already living there. This is the case of many unaccompanied children, who regularly put their lives at risk to join family members in the UK (Teff, 2016).
Since 2015, LIVED has been involved with this context, working towards its core mission of advancement of human rights and education through various initiatives.
First, in the autumn of 2015, LIVED organised a book drive for refugees in Calais, more specifically for the ‘Jungle Library’, a library run by volunteers. The initiative was created as a result of the library receiving demands from displaced individuals to provide specialized and/or academic books to assist them in furthering their higher education - an education which was interrupted as a consequence of war. For two months, we set up various drop-off points around the University of Edinburgh, and students, staff members and members of the public generously donated their academic books. You can read more about the book drive here.
Then, in June 2016, LIVED will film a documentary on the experiences of young displaced individuals currently staying in Calais. As with Learning to Swim, the documentary will aim at sharing the lived experiences of these young people in a way that is meaningful and challenges simplistic understandings of ‘refugees’. This aspect of providing a voice to the young people and offering a creative space where they can share their stories and shape the narratives about Calais is especially important for LIVED, as the UK media play an important role in constructing the identities of refugees in Calais.
In addition to the documentary, the team traveling to Calais will also organise some educational events while they are there, events that will be organised and created based on the needs identified on the ground by the organisations we will partner with, and the refugees themselves.
As our initiative develops in Calais, our team will regularly post updates on the LIVED Blog.
Dhesi, S., Isakjee, A. and Davies, T. (2015). An Environmental Health Assessment of the New Migrant Camp in Calais, pp. 1-32. Accessed at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/Documents/college-les/gees/research/calais-report-oct-2015.pdf
Reinisch, J. (2015). ‘Forever Temporary’: Migrants in Calais, Then and Now’, The Political Quarterly, 86(4) : 515-522
Teff, M. (2016). ‘Refugees in Calais: Where “trying” is risking children’s lives’, UNICEF Blog, 19 April 2016, Accessed at https://blogs.unicef.org.uk/2016/04/19/calais-refugee-trying-childrens-lives/
UNHCR. (2016) ‘UNHCR concerned about conditions in Calais and Dunkerque’, http://www.unhcr.org/56b4ac916.html, 5 February 2016.