Last month two of ULIP’s cohort of MA International Relations students, Kate Rist and Harley-Jane Dority, spent a day in Calais working alongside refugee charities operating in the Jungle.
Here, Kate writes about her experiences and reflects on this very practical side to the international politics that she has been studying at ULIP over the last two terms.
"Towards the end of a colder-than-usual January Harley and I made the short journey from Paris to Calais to work with Help Refugees UK, Refugee Community Kitchen and Utopia 56 – all charities working together to support refugees stuck on the France-UK border.
The warehouse where we volunteered - run by L’Auberge des Migrants - is an amazing volunteer set up that is the work of eight refugee charities combined, both French and English, who all collaborate to produce a highly organised system serving eight distributions to refugees in the Calais-Dunkirk area for both lunch and dinner each day, as well as any other items needed. The bigger charities, Refugee Community Kitchen and Help Refugees UK oversee what happens, getting out about 2750 meals a day to an estimated 1000 refugees with no paid member of staff - it is incredible how organised it is.
Thanks to President Macron's visit to Calais the week before we arrived, tensions were high and refugee numbers had risen to an estimated 1000 people as rumours that the refugee situation might change had been circulating. Essentially Macron didn't help – instead simply stating that a situation like the Jungle camp can never happen again and seeming to encourage even further police brutality - it couldn't have been worse, so it was at least reassuring that in this bleak corner of Northern France there is a whole team of volunteers working all day every day to make sure these people get fed and kept warm as best they can.
We did everything, from peeling 150kg of onions for the kitchen, to sorting and packing 800 blankets to be distributed and sorting some of the incoming donations that seemed to fill the giant warehouse. My only regret was that we didn’t get to stay there longer in order to participate in the distribution side of the operations. Volunteers gather from all over Europe in order to help and participate in something much bigger than themselves. It wasn’t until after we returned to Paris that we realised that by volunteering in Calais we were participating in the practical side of international relations, or ‘doing politics’ as we have called it in our class discussions.
We could not urge more anyone who is considering volunteering just to do it as it is something that will stay with you and that you will not regret. After participating in volunteering like this, Harley and I have created a brochure and programme for ULIP students to take part in next year which can be found on the SU website, and hopefully this link will continue to grow over the coming years.
It is all our responsibility to do something."