Since 1999, the Emmaus Grande Synthe/Dunkirk community has been buzzing with passing exiles seeking to reach England. The community offers them meals and equipment (clothes/covers/tents/pots/candles, etc.). “They” were some hundred people living in the “jungle” (‘woods’ in Afghani) near the community. We were able to provide for many of their needs. In July 2014, huge numbers of exiles arrived. We were overwhelmed by requests. We panicked, but then, remembering the 1st February, the 60th anniversary, we appealed to the big Emmaus family, and 60 years later we need the same things.
Emmaus France, Europe and International immediately mobilised in response to the appeal we sent in July 2014.
Having met the exiles, the decision was taken that a large project of communication and appeal was needed for “six lorries a month carrying equipment for Calais and Grande Synthe throughout the winter”.
Our community thus prepared to receive Emmaus members from all over France and Europe!
Over 55 groups came to help “those who were suffering most” in 2015.
And so we had a new project: “taking people in”. We set up cosy rooms, emptied the shop of its beds and bed covers, etc., (we took in up to 25 people at a time), cooked for them, organised ourselves to tell their story and raise awareness about their journey and go and meet them…all the while continuing the community and 32 companions’ work, as well as the community’s other solidarity projects.
First and foremost, ALL of the community. We take food to the camp every Friday. The Boulogne community works by our side. About 30 of us go and spend about two hours giving out the supplies (it takes three hours to prepare beforehand). Each morning the companions take bread to the camp.
Then, all the people and groups who want to visit this place of humanity.
Firstly, Emmaus groups from France and Europe. Civil society and all kinds of other organisations go too.
We take people in for one or several days.
With the headquarters of Emmaus France, Emmaus Europe and Emmaus International.
With many Emmaus groups in France and Europe.
With the Grande Synthe town hall.
With all the local organisations and NGOs present in the camp.
With all the local businesses. With journalists, writers and anyone else who wants to denounce the situation.
- 1999: some Kosovan refugees (around ten) hide in the small woods by the community.
- We take them basic supplies (meals, camping material, clothes, wood).
- 2000/2002: refugees are taken in at Sangatte then the camp was destroyed.
- 2004/2005: feedback from small groups of refugees
- 2006: the number of refugees grows (from 80 to 100). Most of them are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran. We take part in efforts to find them and hand out equipment with the organisation SALAM (meaning let’s support, help, fight, act to help migrants and countries facing problems)
- July 2014: many people arrive in Calais (up to 10,000): “an appeal for help from the communities”. The people are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Vietnam, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, or are Bedouins (in the Arab world this means someone who has no nationality)
- They live in squats or forests.
- May 2015: they’re chased from the centre of town in Calais and “settle” in a site where they’re tolerated by the state.
- September 2015: the Grande Synthe jungle that had “taken in” around 100 refugees sees 1,600 people arrive in four months.
- September 2016: the makeshift town in Calais is destroyed.
- March 2017: the first European refugee camp that adheres to ‘international standards’ is opened, 2 km from the Grand Synthe community, thanks to Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) and Damien Carême, the hospitable mayor.
We have been taking in groups since October 2014 and handing out supplies as well as going to find refugees.
Unfortunately, our future will revolve around the same ‘topic’.
The makeshift town in Calais has been cleared.
The Grande Synthe camp has been repopulated.
To date, 1,300 people, including 30 babies, 120 children, isolated minors, pregnant women and elderly people live in sheds.
Thanks to its groups’ solidarity, Emmaus France has enables us to have a regular presence in the camp; we’ve hired two members of staff for six months, from mid-January 2017 onwards. A container will be set up to distribute equipment (covers, clothes, chairs, cooking implements, etc.) and initiate a system of exchange (to limit rubbish in the camp).
Thanks to having these members of staff who can carry out welcome activities, we’d like to relaunch the appeal to groups so that we can give the refugees equipment, helping hands and some humanity. We are also enriched by the encounters we have.
Thank you to all the groups who’ve supported us. Through joint work and/or donations, Emmaus has given these people the basic supplies they needed.
In our own small way we have understood what Abbé Pierre’s call meant.
We were able to run this project because we were together.
The groups gave us strength! Sharing the burden makes it more manageable!
Today, Emmaus has a voice and project that are recognised in the camp and in the area, particularly at the political level.
An Afghan companion who got his papers, left for our integration workshop. After four years on French soil, he managed to get his heavy goods vehicle licence. He was then employed by MSF and he now works for the town of Grande Synthe. He received his universal citizenship passport at the Emmaus salon.
We’ve met many people – from the group of 60 young people who have settled behind the community with their kitchen and bread oven, who hand out 700 meals a day around Calais, to journalists, politicians of all stripes, clowns without borders, street artists, etc.
From ‘old fashioned good-hearted people’ to ‘nasty pieces of work’, from conventional people to alternative characters.
TOGETHER we listen to people who roam.
This enables us to introduce people to our wonderful Emmaus movement and all the extraordinary people who live with us…this fantastic place we call the Emmaus community.
It also provides our companions with great recognition!
Moreover, many newspapers have written about us and, for example, a five-minute report at 7.45 p.m. on a prominent French channel brought us nearly 10,000 euros in the following days. It also reminded society that Emmaus shows solidarity and works with the ‘little’ people on the ground.
We attach this struggle to the heritage of our ‘boss’.
“Everyone has a responsibility to get involved in two things: wanting to know and daring to speak out” Abbé Pierre once said.
EVERYONE who would like to meet exiles, and has drunk tea in the mud under their gazes will dare to say “welcome my friend”! We have a duty to take people in so that these meetings can take place.
“Serve first those who suffer most”. Any companion taken in is saved from being one of those who suffers most! They have a roof over their head, bread, friends and a bit of money. So, “come and help me help”. That is what truly drives our community and what forms our shared D.N.A.!
“The voice of the voiceless should stop those in power from sleeping”. If we live at the heart of such injustice, we can legitimately denounce it, and that is essential!
Many activists arrived last year following the terrible discovery of the small child who was washed up on a Turkish beach.
Today, they all desert or leave to go elsewhere.
Long-standing activists are tiring.
And nevertheless, the refugees are still there…and keep coming back!
They still go through England despite the walls, policemen, dogs raised on the smell of firewood, motion detectors and modern radars!
Emmaus must continue this struggle. We’re going to reinforce the groups and renew our efforts to take people in. We’ll need equipment, manpower and activists.