The mention of the phrase 'Calais jungle' conjures up images of barbed wire fences, threatening people with knives, petty thievery, and hundreds of people repeatedly storming the Channel Tunnel - at least that's the impression given by a host of news stories over the past few weeks.
But one woman who has just returned from the migrant camp labelled the ‘Jungle', says that’s far from the case.
Diane Fotheringham drove 500 miles from her Glasgow home to provide clothes, food, sleeping bags, toiletries and other goods, all raised by a crowdsourcing initiative, to the migrants at the camp.
“[The French workers at the site] thought it was really nice. They said that there are starting to be more people from the UK doing this sort of things," she told the Huffington Post UK.
"I think the fact that we’re from Scotland and it’s a wee bit further away - people think it’s the end of the earth! They were so grateful for any help that people could give. They need people there as well as housing. Shoes are a big, big problem. There was not a bad vibe, not a bad feeling, nothing bad from the refugees.
“We were taken down through the Jungle, we spoke to a lot of refugees. We had lunch in a restaurant there, which took us by surprise - the community there is creating its own structures. There’s restaurants, shops - it’s totally incredible. We had lunch at a restaurant called The Afghan Flage and it was absolutely delicious. We ate our lunch with refugees from lots of different countries - Eritrea, Afghanistan, Syria - and while we were there they were listening to the news from Kabul about the bombings. They were telling us about the bombings and I was asking about their families there. It was just an incredible experience, it really was.
“We went to the mosque and to the Christian church - that whole structure is there in the Jungle.”
She continued: “What I didn’t realise about the whole business of the Jungle is that it’s right cheek by jowl with Calais. I though this would be somewhere away, hidden, but you cross the road and you’re back in Calais. There was a woman walking her dogs, kids playing on swings within a couple of yards of this. The two communities live side-by-side actually quite happily. Nobody is bothering each other.
“It’s a place that’s relaxed and so full of laughter. The only squabbling we saw was kids wanting one of the footballs that we had brought. There was no tension, I’ve rarely felt less threatened in my life. I would be happy for my 20-year-old daughters to go there, there were young women, white and black, but there was no sense of threat whatsoever, absolutely nothing."
While many people are jetting off for their summer holidays, the Fotheringham family took a rather more unusual trip. Frustrated and concerned by the plight of migrants in Calais, Diane and her husband Bob decided it was time to do something. So on 11 August, they packed up a van full of food, clothes and other items and began the long journey to the Jungle.
In a blog for HuffPost UK, Fotheringham explained her reasoning behind the trip. She said: “Over the last few weeks I have watched the unfolding crisis in Calais and the increasingly desperate plight of migrants and refugees, including orphaned children and pregnant women, who are living in diabolical conditions.
“Talking to friends and family, we felt a growing sense that we could be doing more to help. The tipping point for me came after the sad news that a Sudanese man had been killed making a desperate attempt to enter the channel tunnel.
“On the same day I heard a radio presenter inviting his listeners to call in with suggestions for messages to send over a loudspeaker at Dover to 'convince migrants not to pile into the UK'. I felt an overwhelming sense of anger that the desperation of fellow human beings was being trivialised in this way. People are risking their lives for a chance of a better life and people seemed to be suggesting that traffic jams on the M25 and the banality of the Labour leadership race were in some way comparable to the squalid conditions of makeshift camps in Calais or the desperate situations from which the refugees are fleeing in their home countries.
“We wanted to show the people living in the Calais camps that people in Britain do care.”
“My fear was that we wouldn’t know where to go to give the stuff,” explained Diane. “When we were at home we had phone numbers of people who, understandably, didn’t want to give their location or tell us where to find them, they said to call them when we arrived. I wasn’t quite sure about that, doing all this, getting all that money and then getting down there and finding that actually we don’t know what to do.”
But once they found someone in charge of distributing aid, things quickly fell into place.
She said: “Everybody was so helpful, they were so nice.
“It was incredible, it really was.
“I came away thinking ‘I’m sorry to leave’. It sounds ridiculous.
“But I also came away thinking ‘thank God I can leave’.”
Fotheringham is aware that some people in the UK have little sympathy for the refugees at Calais, many of whom have escaped war and genocide.
She said: “These people can’t just stay in the place they’re from. Going back isn’t an option. They would be killed. These are refugees.
“I don’t want to tell these people’s stories for them but there’s thousands of stories.”
And what about those who argue we should simply send these refugees home?
“We would be committing these people to death and that’s the end of it. I’m not prepared to take part in that.
“I don’t want to see anybody dead. I don’t want to see anybody hungry.”
Some people have criticised Fotheringham for her efforts, but she said that, quite frankly, she doesn’t care.
She said: “I really really don’t want to make this about me. I haven’t paid much attention to the comments on my blog. I don’t care - some of them are actually quite funny. What I would say is that I do not want to make this about me. I’m literally just a wee woman from Glasgow, that’s all. I’m not a politician, I’m not anything. It’s not the first time I’ve been called a name by a right-wing person, in the nicest possible way so these comments don’t bother me."
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