Let’s start with the teargas.
Backstory: a few weeks ago, the security team at the Grande-Synthe Camp (Dunkirk Camp) implemented a wristband system for keeping track of who was living there, and as an attempt to prevent the camp from growing. This hugely affected residents of the camp, who often come and go, as the real number of people in the camp is undoubtedly much higher than the official number. Issues with the wristband system calmed down when people realised that they could slip them off their wrists and swap them around. This has been going on for a couple of weeks.
Fast forward to Tuesday. As we were leaving camp after a fairly standard day in the free shops we became aware that half the camp population were walking or running towards the front gates. Security had stopped letting people in with broken wristbands, and there was a revolt within the camp as a result, with people rushing to the front gates to cut off their wristbands in solidarity with their friends. Watching from a safe distance, things escalated quickly. Teargas was deployed by the security and CRS, which did nothing but exacerbate the situation. The fence around the entrance to camp, erected only within the past few weeks, was thrown down as if it was paper. In reaction to this, an enormous, thick plume of teargas was deployed, which scattered some of the crowd, but naturally just made people even more livid. We suddenly became aware that a fire had been started at the entrance, and as we looked closer we realised that the security office itself had been set on fire. Within minutes, flames were billowing from its doorway and smoke was rising high into the air. With that, it was time to find our way out the back exit.
Surprisingly, this event didn’t have a huge impact on our work or security presence for the rest of this week, although it remains to be seen whether and how the wristband system will be replaced. Otherwise, it was business as usual for us, but the strain on Refugee Community Kitchen’s resources is expected to increase in the next few weeks following the recent and permanent withdrawal of another kitchen organisation from Dunkirk.
We’ve had excitement of a different sort in Calais this week. In response to the mayor’s ban on mobile food distribution in Calais, RCK began a static food distribution service in the centre of town in order to ensure that people are still getting fed, and as a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to the mayor. It was anticipated that this might lead to police intervention (despite being completely legal) but so far, so good. On Friday night, we fed 120 people, and there was a really lovely moment where everyone was sitting around eating and a few local kids were playing football with some of the young men. Of course, such rose-tinted moments are overshadowed by evenings where people have been followed back to their hiding spots by the CRS and arrested. It appears that the police and CRS are going to leave us alone for now, but this could change at any moment.
On a happier note – St Paddy’s Day was taken extremely seriously among the volunteers, with costumes and green powder paint fights at the warehouse and even a ceilidh at the women and children’s centre on camp (as well as drinks in the evening, obviously). I can’t say that I thought I’d be celebrating St Patrick’s Day 2017 in a warehouse in Calais with someone dressed as a leprechaun who’s beard was made out of empty onion bags, all whilst I was cooking rice for about 1000 people. One for the autobiography.
Overall, an interesting and busy week, and I’m intrigued to see what the next week brings. If you’re interested in donating food to RCK’s efforts, check out their current needs.
Spas! (‘Thanks’ in Kurdish – the only useful word I’ve so far committed to memory in the language, the others being ‘piaz’ (onions) and ‘choulom’ (snot)…)