Weekly Update from Refugee Youth Service: Fighting Halts The Big Move…

What was meant to be an exciting report about the move to the new MSF designed youth space has unfortunately become an account of last week’s violence and the effect it has had on the children living in the Calais camp, as well as an announcement of the postponement of our move due to these unforeseen circumstances.

As previously mentioned, we planned to begin the relocation of our youth centre on Thursday 26th May into the ‘youth only’ area designed by MSF in the north of camp. However Thursday’s fighting has all but put an end to these dreams as the land allocated for the youth space has now been occupied and the buildings either destroyed or stolen. This has been unbelievably frustrating as the support services planned by MSF and ourselves are no longer available and so the neglect of support for these children continues. As well as this, our own centre was in the process of being dismantled and so when the violence erupted the boys could not come to the centre to seek refuge. (We have since hurriedly rebuilt our building to provide the youth with the option of protection in case of further fighting).

Thursday’s violence erupted between the camp’s two main nationalities and ended with over 40 people in hospital with mainly knife and gunshot wounds. Concerns had been raised since the Southern evictions about the cramped living conditions in the camp and the fact that communities were forced to live ‘on top’ of one another. These concerns materialised on Thursday, as over 200 people were involved in the fighting that saw children play both victim to and a part in the violence. As the fighting raged a number of children were forced to flee their shelters that were burnt down in the fire that took hold of camp. The vast majority of these unaccompanied minors are running away from some sort of violence in their home countries. The continuing violence demonstrates that they have still yet to find refuge and the horrifying ordeal of ‘running away’ continues. More worrying still were the number of children involved in the fighting, imitating adults and holding weapons. These are children in search of role models who are fast becoming desensitised to violence and are in desperate need of a nurturing environment before it is too late.

One of the most significant consequences of this event was the number of shelters destroyed by the fire. Estimated by Help Refugees at 250 shelters burnt, a number of children have been left homeless. With no shelters currently being built these children (the youngest of whom is 10 years old) are forced to live in tents and are exceptionally vulnerable. We are trying desperately to recycle shelters from those who have made it across but the numbers are not in our favour, and with more and more children arriving in camp the housing situation has returned to what it was like in October 2015.

However, on a more positive note, we have tried to maintain the level of normalcy that we believe to be vital to the children growing up in the camp. We strongly believe that structure and routine are essential in keeping the youth grounded when their whole world erupts into chaos, and so we have been running education and sports daily. We have also continued with clothes distributions to ensure all youth have a spare change of clothing. This week over 70 boys came to the Youth Centre to receive jumpers and hoodies to keep them warm from the rain. Finally, we have been working with ‘The School Bus Project’ that provides weekly outings to the beach where the boys can swim in the sea, have a BBQ and learn some English (as seen in the pictures below). This often provides the boys with a rare trip out of the camp (aside from their attempts to cross) that gives them some much needed fresh air and relief!