Dumpster Divers Are Bringing Food to This Migrant Camp in Calais


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Dumpster Divers Are Bringing Food to This Migrant Camp in Calais

The Jules Ferry centre on the outskirts of Calais is France’s first state-sanctioned migrant camp. Last month, a Bristol food waste organisation travelled there to cook meals of donated food for its inhabitants.

"The British border is physically today in France, so it's quite a hypocritical situation," says Carolyn Wiggans, a volunteer at the Jules Ferry refugee centre on the outskirts of Calais, France. "Lots of these refugees, if they're from Sudan or Syria, Great Britain says, No problem, we'll have you all, but you cannot physically go to England to request asylum because the border control is here in France."


Providing one hot meal a day, as well as access to showers and phones, Jules Ferry is France's first state-sanctioned migrant centre.

The camp is situated between a chemical factory and a motorway, and has become a shanty town for migrants stuck in Calais as they attempt to stowaway on lorries headed for the UK. Once there, many will travel to Croydon and apply to the British Home Office for asylum.


The wasteland outside the Jules Ferry migrant camp near Calais. All photos by Julia Shirley-Quirk.

While the centre occupies a disused holiday camp building (something The Daily Mail saw as reason enough to brand it "idyllic") and is seen by some migrant charities as a preferable alternative to the notorious Sangatte refugee camp near the Channel Tunnel, Jules Ferry is far from comfortable.

READ MORE: What It's Like to Cook In a Syrian Refugee Camp

"The doctor has said it's not good for me to try to get on the lorries in my condition. I don't know; I think I've been through enough," says heavily pregnant Ayana* from Ethiopia, one of the one hundred or so women living at the centre. "I just give up now. I'll stay here in the camp but it's no life for a child."


Jules Ferry provides limited accommodation for women and children, but the thousands of migrant men who find their way to Calais are not permitted from entering the building after certain hours, and forced to live in the wastelands surrounding the gates. The area has been nicknamed "The Jungle," a title previously given to the Leader Price squat close to the Eurotunnel that many migrants were relocated from.


After hearing of Devon charity Embercombe's plans to visit the camp, The Bristol Skipchen, an anti-food waste cafe set up by The Real Junk Food Project, decided to join forces and provide sustaining meals for migrants using its supply of donated and unwanted food.

Covering travel costs with a fundraising dinner and Indiegogo fund, and armed with food donated from wholesalers and cafes or "skipped" from supermarket bins, five Skipchen volunteers and the Embercombe team made the journey across the Channel last month.

"Even though we were successful in achieving our food and cooking mission, the real success came from creating a neutral community space where all the different ethnic groups could come together," Marianna Musset, Skipchen director tells me after arriving at The Jungle. "The Jungle is segregated into camps of different nationalities, and for a few days we were able to provide a space devoid of those boundaries."


The Bristol Skipchen's "Food Rescue Ambulance" used to transport supplies. Marianna Musset, Skipchen director.

An old ambulance, a few vans, and an ex-army tent acts as the Skipchen team's base camp for the four days they spend at The Jungle. The volunteers also take food to people living at Leader Price and the Galou camp in Calais town centre.

I help the volunteers to make salad from the donated beetroot, lettuce, radish, potato, and grains, and a stew in a pot the size of an armchair, stirring it with a huge stick. Over the four days spent at The Jungle, the Skipchen and Embercombe team distributes 3000 meals.


The migrants cook with us and help with serving the food and cleaning. When the work is finished, we drink tea and coffee together, play frisbee, and exchange language greetings.

During the mornings, the Embercombe apprentices also walk around the camp to deliver one hundred bags containing lentils, flour, coffee, tea, Bombay mix, granola, millet, and wheat. We cross the grassy patch of land while the French authorities dump piles of rubble around the perimeter.

Our presence as British people in solidarity—rather than with the aggression some migrants have come to expect from European visitors—means a lot to many of the men.

"We are very happy you good people from England have come here," says Farid*, a teacher from Syria. "It is a very bad life in The Jungle and you lift our spirits."

Despite coming from a traditionally patriarchal culture, Farid and many of the other men living in The Jungle take on "female" responsibilities with ease. As I struggle to wash our gargantuan saucepans with a broken wrist, two Afghani men call me "sister" and insist they take over.


As well as preparing meals and distributing food, the Skipchen volunteers donate clothes, blankets, and tents to camp inhabitants. I quickly learn the importance of giving these supplies as discreet "gifts."

"Frantically handing stuff out of the back of a van dehumanises you as much as it dehumanises the people you're trying to help and you end up with a riot," Caity, an apprentice at Embercombe, explains.


The migrants I speak to are warm and respectful. Mohamed*, a migrant from Sudan, tells me that once you've experienced so much atrocity and pain, you have no choice but to be a nice person.


"We lent this one chap a handsaw," remembers Mick, another Embercombe volunteer. "He walked over a mile to return it to us. We said he could keep it!"

One way to get around the guilt of knowing fellow humans live in squalor is to imagine them as somehow "other" to yourself: uneducated foreigners, bad people or, if you believe Katie Hopkins, "cockroaches."

But it's simply not true. At the Leader Price camp, I'm invited into the kitchen of a group of Sudanese men where we talk around the fire. Dennis, a mechanic from Southern Sudan, gets us onto the subject of Mr Bean. Through broken English, we spend the next 15 minutes roaring with laughter over Rowan Atkinson's funniest moments.

READ MORE: A Michelin-Starred Chef Is Feeding Refugees in France

Back in The Jungle, a Sudanese man nicknamed Baggy is also keen to talk. As we wait for a gargantuan pan of pulses to boil, he tells us that he and his village neighbours were subject to the ethnic cleansing of Darfur Sudan's non-Arab population.

"Men came in on horses with guns and weapons to loot our village. They killed many young men and made the pregnant women come forward," Baggy says, looking down at his feet. "They cut the children from their bellies, even if they were only at seven months. If it was a girl they would let her live, but if it was a boy they would kill him because he can grow into a man and be an enemy."


The juxtaposition of our gently bubbling pot and Baggy's horrific tale suddenly seems like a symbol of mankind's resilience. Even when your family has been killed and you've crossed the Mediterranean Sea alone in the hope of safety, everyday life carries on.

For Michel Wiggans, another Jules Ferry volunteer, it's the stoicism of people like Baggy that keeps him coming back. He began volunteering with organisations to provide food and supplies for Calais' migrants ten years ago, at first boiling just 30 eggs and sharing loaves of bread.

"The reason I dedicate my time to helping the migrants is this: they are men and I am a man," he tells me. "That is it."

*Names have been changed to protect identities.

All photos by Julia Shirley-Quirk.