Dunkirk. Feb. 2016
Post date: 07-Oct-2016 03:05:23
Posted on February 29, 2016 by Laura Nelson
So. I am very out of practice as a writer so I hope the following reads ok.
I have been back from Dunkirk for 4 days now. In that time I have been trying to make sense of what is going on there. What is going on here. What is going on in refugee camps across Europe. What is going on in refugee camps around the world. What is going on in the world.
My brain is rather fried. I have learned so much in these last 10 days. I have been slightly hiding from humans whilst knowing that I need to communicate with people here, what I saw there. Being at the camp in Dunkirk, working alongside volunteers and refugees. Working together on the ground for the sake of humans.
Dunkirk camp is situated in the middle of northern french small town suburbia. It boasts terrible conditions. The cops don’t allow any building materials onsite whatsoever. The camp is like a large bath of mud. The whole underfoot terrain is just thick, dirty, slippy, deep mud. It makes doing anything 20 times as difficult. This is where people have to put their tents. They try and line them with blankets to keep out the damp. Because of the lack of building materials, there are very few buildings in the camp. There is an established school (there are actually 2 schools) which I was allowed to work in for a morning with the kids making Swallow kites. There are a few kitchens. Recently a Womens and Childrens centre, a Clothing distribution tent and a Blankets and tents building went up- They were built by volunteers with donated funds. There are festival style toilets. There is a tap. I saw MSF visit the camp twice. There are no gov orgs. There are independent volunteers and charities providing food, gas, heating in whatever ways possible. Anyone can just walk in there.
I was helping build a new building to be the Mens distribution tent- A place where men can come and get clothes, shoes etc. There had been a one day amnesty on building materials by the police so lots of pallets had been brought on site that day. We made the mens distribution tent from these pallets, some mismatching marquee poles, small trees and sticks taken from he woodland, chicken wire and large tent canvasses. the work was great fun- I love this kind of thing- Working together with people from all over the world- Theatre builders, festival crew, students, refugees, kids- anyone who wanted to help became part of the ever changing and evolving team. It could be confusing and chaotic and everything is covered in mud and there is no one in charge. There are no rules or systems to follow. Everyone and everything is everywhere. Problem solving and climbing are in. Health and safety is impossible. I really really loved it.
The atmosphere in the camp is generally good. People are trying to keep the crack going. Laugh, connect. Everything is shared. Everyone is in the same boat. People are trying to work out where to go, what do do. The stories are shocking and strange. Unbelievable how the people have been treated by authorities and governments everywhere. There is no information available to them. There are promises and lies. There are people waiting in bureaucratic systems that never come to anything. There are families there that have been settled in European countries who speak the language of those countries, who have have been born in those countries and then expelled with no where to go but a big muddy vulnerable field.
The first thing I learned when I went to the camp was- I am prejudiced and affected by media scare mongering. The camp isn’t scary at all. I felt safer inside it than outside.
The second thing I realised and the most important thing I learned was that there is no plan for the refugee crisis. The powers that be don’t give a damn about these people or any people. They lie, and cheat and pretend but at the end of the day theres no plan. So- That made me realise something even more important- And that is that we have to work outside of our normal official sanctioned by government rules. These people cant expect government to help them. They have to help themselves in whatever way they can. There are a lot of secrets in the camp.
I was only there for a week and it was very up and down. I didn’t want to leave but I have kids to care for and work to do and money to make and bills to pay. Anything I say here is just my opinion. So many things are happening there and I was just there for a very brief time. I am planning to go back to Dunkirk in the next couple of months or to one of the many low key camps that are not reported and dotted along the coast there. When I go I will take Reuben with me to help. He is quietly excited in his Reuben way.
I encourage people to go there and see it with your own eyes. You cant believe anything you read.
Before I left I you lot gave me over £600 via this fundraiser to spend directly on refugees while I was there. I initially thought I would spend it on food to distribute but I didn’t. I held on to it until my last day and spent the week figuring out where I thought it would be best spent.
In the camp there is a lack of art. There is a lack of music. There is a lack of sociable spaces. Every time you hear music it moves you so intensely. You realise how important these things are to keep the human spirit uplifted. It’s so stark there.
I met with a volunteer guy who has been living at that camp for a couple of months. He knows a lot of people there and keeps the crack going. He was on his way shopping so I became the purse.
We had a very important and long awaited barbecue.
We contributed 300 euros of 700 euros of top quality shish kebab meat for refugees to cook and share themselves. That is a LOT of kebabs.
We bought- Charcoal for for shish.
We bought- A couple of sets of energy efficient speakers to play amplified music.
We bought- Approx 2 days worth of internet for the women in the Women and Children's centre.
We bought- Coloured card for Swallow kites.
We bought- Plastic boxes to keep papers and docs dry also for Women and Children's centre.
We bought- 20 bunches of parsley. 10 bottles of chilli sauce and 5 tins of harissa (also for the barbecue)
We bought a very long cable for a family.
I think that’s it.