As you may have gathered from the title, this is not one of my usual “travel” posts.
I’ve written about the presence of refugee camps in Calais, Dunkirk, and Paris, France in some of my previous posts about travel in France. Their presence, and the experience of refugees there, has become increasingly interesting to me since I moved to Belgium. My interest is driven by wanting to have a better understanding of the global refugee crisis and the multitude of international events that are driving it, and more so, a heartfelt empathy for refugees. Seeing the Calais “Jungle” (refugee camp) firsthand while traveling in 2016, and being very close to these sites, has brought this issue more to the forefront of my world view.
I started following the work of a local organization, Gent4Humanity, which provides direct humanitarian aid to refugees in northern France, and also sends aid to refugees in Greece. After learning the group was founded by other expats in Belgium, I pitched the idea to profile them to my colleagues at The Square.Gent, the local website for expats that I write for on a volunteer basis.
The profile published recently and I wanted to cross-post it here on my personal blog because, well, self-promotion. But also because I think the topic is important. Here is the piece: “Gent4Humanity: “What Can We Do?”
The article profiles the founders of the organization, as well as the organization itself. I realize it is long. My first draft of it was almost twice as long. I had visions of a long form piece that profiled these fascinating people, highlighted the important work of the organization, and brought forth important information about the international, historical crisis(es) we are facing. I had to remind myself that I am not a writer for Vanity Fair. I had to cut a lot out of the article to make it work for the site.
In the course of my writing the article, I also became a volunteer for Gent4Humanity. Depending on your perspective, this may also indicate that I am not a professional journalist and may raise the question of bias. But at the same time, being a volunteer with the organization allowed me to write about the situation using valuable fieldwork experience.
I told Michelle and Oliver, the founders of Gent4Humanity, how I was frustrated to have not been able to write more into the piece. Michelle suggested I blog more about it. (“Oh yeah”, I thought, “I host my own blog. Duh.”) So, I may start doing that, though I don’t know to what extent.
For now, I’m thrilled if you check out the piece I wrote via the link above!
*Cover photo of this blog is from my first trip with Gent4Humanity in January 2018. It was taken in the morning at the refugee camp in Dunkirk, France. When we arrived that morning, very few refugees were present and the camp seemed to be cleaned out. Many refugees had moved to a nearby, temporary facility (a gymnasium) being offered as shelter during the winter months for women, children, and families. Such a shelter was not offered for single men, so a few remained in Dunkirk, nearby parks, or were in Calais.
Two things that struck me about this spot:
- The stairs worn into the land in the hill leading up to the highway. How much foot traffic has that hill and highway seen in order for those stairs to emerge?
- The shopping cart in the dumpster. Images of children playing in shopping carts can be seen in Gent4Humanity’s pictures from previous trips. Is it the same cart? I don’t know, but the connection struck me. The cart has been discarded. Where are the children?
2 thoughts on “Refugee Camps in Northern France”
It really is a worldwide crises. I spent most of 2016-2017 working at a resettlement agency in here in Boston and it was an incredibly hectic with the administration change. Seeing the end of a select few of their journeys was incredibly powerful and I can’t imagine working with refugees in this transitive state.
Not that I can speak with much experience yet, but I can already tell how challenging it is. I imagine seeing happy endings to individual journeys would be very inspiring. Since I am just doing aid distribution, I don’t think I’ll have the chance to see any stories through, but I try and get inspiration from knowing we are meeting some basic needs and lending an ear. All the refugees I’ve met so far have been through hell to get here and the conditions here are not conducive to healing or making progress in their journey, unfortunately.
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