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24 March 2016

“The Calais Jungle, worse than slums I saw in the Philippines”. A report by Léa Klein

Written by Sense Reporter

We left for the Calais Jungle an early Saturday morning of February, after drinking an amazing mint tea in Barbès (Paris). We didn’t know what to expect; we were only in touch with an NGO called L’Auberge des Migrants who told us we could come and help.

[cherry_box preset=”secondary-border” bg_color=”#e2e2e2″]Léa discovered social entrepreneurship as a student in Burkina Faso while helping women sell their local shea butter production. World explorer, passionate traveller, power girl, she deeply believes community innovation can move the needle for millions of people.[/cherry_box]


It’s been quite a few months now, every media has been talking about the “refugee crisis”: all these refugees / migrants who arrive everyday in Europe hoping for a better life and a better place to raise their kids and those European countries who don’t know how to handle all these people, etc… For a few months, I have been hearing so many things about refugees or migrants, but even if we talk about it everyday, I couldn’t realize what this “refugee crisis” really was in France. I didn’t know also how I could help… So with Aziliz and Olivier we decided to go to Calais and to become volunteers for 2 days.

[cherry_box_inner preset=”primary-border” bg_color=”#e95e43″ fill=”yes”]L’Auberge des migrants, a dedicated organisation for the “inhabitants of the Calais Jungle” L’Auberge des Migrants was founded in 2008 to support migrants living in the “Calais Jungle”. Its objective is to help the inhabitants of the camp to survive by giving them a hand in their daily life (distribution of clothes, food, visit to the doctor, education for the kids, etc…)[/cherry_box_inner]

The first thing that really surprised us when we arrived to their warehouse was that 90% of the volunteers were English. Among the 50 volunteers we saw, maybe 2 or 3 were French. By talking with some of them we understood that they felt really concerned about the situation in Calais as it’s very close to their country; but also because most of the migrants dream to go to England.

This warehouse was really impressive: they receive tons of clothes, food, sanitarian material, etc… and everyday they distribute all of these products on the Camp. The organization of L’Auberge des Migrants is like a corporation. Everybody knows their role and daily objective. Thanks to their processes, they are able to give food 3 times a day and distribute clothes everyday.

On the other hand, you will never find neither the address of the warehouse on the Internet neither pictures of it. Indeed, so many people are not supporting their humanitarian actions, it could be a very dangerous situation for volunteers who are living there.

1st day at the Camp

When we arrived there, they directly proposed us to share a tea, eat something. People were so friendly to us. Then, they proposed to join the “clothes team”. Our role was to sort clothes by category: t-shirt with t-shirt, pants with pants, etc.. In the camp, there is a planning on a board at the entrance that tells what will be distributed on what day.

“Volunteers don’t really live in good conditions but they don’t care, they are here to help”. (Léa Klein)

Refugee Camp Calais

The distribution planning board

We were really impressed about the happiness and commitment of the long term volunteers: they are excited about everything and really happy to be there and come to the warehouse everyday of the week. They don’t really live in good conditions but they don’t care, they are here to help.

2nd day: a windy and very cold day at the camp

On the 2nd day, Peter, one of the English volunteer, brought us to the Calais Jungle. There were trees around there, that’s why they called it the Jungle in the first place. Now the name stayed but there are no trees anymore (everything has been destroyed), just small hills with thousands of tents. The Jungle is a small but genuine city. We went there with Olivier who is launching Liter of Light in France. The objective was to map the camp and see where he could establish his solar lamps. By night, there is only light in the main street.

“Migrants recreated a whole micro economy to survive”. (Léa Klein)

When we arrived there, we were really shocked about the sanitarian and living conditions. When I was in The Philippines, I saw many different slums but Calais was even worse than some slums in Asia. The weather was so cold and there was so much wind, they literally live in tents that stand in the mud. Another very impressive thing was the number of shops and restaurants you can find in the Calais Jungle. Migrants recreated a whole micro economy to survive.

During that day we learned so many things about the living conditions and dreams of the migrants: for instance, on many tents we could read claims like “Let us go to England” or “England we love you”. Most of the migrants want to leave for England thinking they will find a job and a better situation for their families there than in France. Some of them think that England is better because smugglers told them it was. They are ready to make migrants believe anything for money, even if they risk their lives one more time.

Refugee Camp Calais

Many men live in the Calais Jungle whereas other camps like Dunkirk host much more kids and women. The camp is organised by communities: Syrian live together, Pakistanis live with Pakistanis, etc… The camp is quite dangerous at night so they need to stay with their community to ensure their security. Migrants really trust the volunteers of L’Auberge des Migrants, when they have a problem, they go and see them to discuss the issue; they’re pretty much their confidents. I was really humbled by the volunteers because they were able to create this kind of trust between them and the migrants. It’s not an easy thing to do; people who live in the camp endured such horrible trauma that it’s hard for them to open up their heart.

Sunday evening, we went to eat in one of the Pakistani restaurants of the Camp, delicious! Among the clients: many volunteers and migrants but also curious tourists. You can actually find lots of tourists who take selfies with migrants… which is a bit weird by moments…

Refugee Camp Calais

Helping others can become a danger for your life

When we came back to the warehouse of L’Auberge des Migrants, we met a guy that I’m going to call ‘Sylvain’. Sylvain is one of the most engaged volunteer of the camp. He was so dedicated that he had to delete all of his personal informations on the Internet and we couldn’t take pictures of him; he literally risks his life by helping migrants in Calais. You might have heard on the radio or on TV “clashes” between the migrants and people who want to evacuate the camp. Some people can’t stand the actions of L’Auberge des Migrants at all, and are ready to use violence against the volunteers to stop them.

For a few months, the city of Calais has been asking to dismantle the north side of the camp where 2 000 people live. Thanks to the NGOs and local associations who are working every day with the migrants (Médecins du Monde, Médecins sans frontières, l’Auberge des migrants, etc…) the administrative center of Calais postponed the dismantling and is even thinking of establishing more infrastructure for the migrants. It’s a first step but there is still a lot of work to do. By dismantling the camp, most of them will be in the street and have no access to hosting centers as there’s not enough space.

This situation in Calais didn’t start 2 years ago; it’s a problem that has been dragging on for more than 15 years. We need, all together, to help these people who are simply expecting a better future in Europe. You can do it from your city by supporting social entrepreneurs working with refugees, solve their challenges on, by joining the MakeSense Tribe on Facebook, by donating food and clothes or by giving a few days of your time in Calais or Dunkirk and distribute donations.

I’d like to give a huge thanks to Clémence, Julien and Raphaëla who organized collections of clothes in Paris, and another thanks to Aziliz and Olivier for sharing this really important weekend with me.

Léa Klein


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MakeSense is launching a mobilization campaign for Refugees, if you want to volunteer and help social entrepreneurs, social projects, or NGOs empowering refugees like L’auberge des Migrants, get in touch with

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