“Why do they think we are animals? We don’t want to eat like this” — A View of the New State Distribution in Calais

Yesterday the French state opened their first food distribution point for displaced people living in Calais since the closure of the infamous camp, ‘The Jungle’ in November 2016.

Charities and organisations working on the ground openly welcomed action from the state to provide food, water and toilets for those living rough in Calais. All food distributions normally delivered by the Refugee Community Kitchen and Salam came to a standstill in order to give the French state a chance at their new distribution system. After all, this is their job — not a charity’s.

A few days prior, volunteers from various organisations communicated with those living in what is now dubbed the ‘new’ jungle of the states plans at a new distribution. Over a year has passed since the closure of the Jungle, and since there has been little government action to treat refugees with any dignity, respect or humanity. The general echo from the boys at the new jungle seemed to be one of disappointment and anger. When they have been the subject of consistent neglect and harassment by a state, why would they trust that same state?

“Why Now? They don’t care for us… They [the state] have never cared. We don’t want to be a part of them” — Ihman, Ethiopia

The new distribution point, fuelled by the government and carried out by French organisation Le Vie Active is placed on a small road parallel to the ‘new jungle’. The road only offers a small strip of muddy grass to walk on, with a few industrial factories alongside it and a constant stream of heavy trucks zooming by. On approach to the distribution point, a newly placed fence with bright yellow ‘Surveillance Video’ signs plastered on the metal wires acted as warning signs for those displaced to not enter. To further these warnings, the fences proudly held bundles of sparkling new razor sharp barred wire to add to the welcoming tones.

The entrance of the compound walled by fences was silent. The untouched silvery grey stones placed carefully on the ground had only been walked on by a dozen Le Vie Active staff dressed in bright orange high visibility jackets. In front, an open sided white container with a concrete floor offered a space for meal time. To the left, a food trailer with Le Vie Active staff ready to hand plastic bags filled with baguettes, jam, butter, cheese and milk nervously waited for their first ‘costumers’ to arrive. Conversations between Le Vie Active and other associations made it clear that Le Vie Active were not fully approving of how their first distribution had panned out, but hopeful for change to come in the near future.

Opposite the food trailer stood an intimidating line of journalists, with cameras at the ready to capture the welcoming of confused men accepting ‘hand outs’ from a government who have cast their existence in a gloomy undertone for the past few years. Behind this line of journalists, another distant line of CRS officers dressed in riot gear stood in uniform on the edges of the compound. As time passed, it was obvious that no one would arrive. A few boys walked past with faces covered, dodging through the bushes to avoid the press and cameras that attempted to film them without consent.

“This is bad. Why they think we are animals? I don’t want to eat like this. I am not a show. I am human, no?” — Adam, Sudan

A couple of men from Eritrea approached volunteers from associations that they recognised to ask if they could collect the food for them and bring it outside. These volunteers pointed them towards Le Vie Active, as this was their job, but the men refused. Another man asked to be accompanied to the toilets placed inside the compound to cover him from the cameras.

“This is like prison! They [the state] are bad. Very bad. This is not good. We are not criminals. We will not eat today, tomorrow, next day. Why they [the state] want to help now? They don’t give us shelter, they don’t treat us good. There is no point” — Afin, Oromo

Whilst associations and operational charity’s on the ground are welcoming and patient to the States new distribution, it seems that despite the new efforts by the French state to adequately provide for the displaced population in Calais, some wounds may be too deep to heal. The welcoming to France that these men, women and children have received has lacked any such meaning of the word ‘welcoming’. As 16 feet high fences border roads and kettle displaced people into forests where there items and shelters are systematically confiscated, it’s no wonder why those displaced have lost all trust in the French state. The distribution carries with it an eerie undertone as CRS vans slowly drive up and down the road of the new distribution point. The warm welcome to the state’s new ‘safe space’ turned out to be not so dissimilar to the welcoming of a detention centre.

Associations and organisations are working together to better the new distribution points to ensure that dignity and humanity are not lost. The response to the feedback so far has been positive from Le Vie Active, and whilst we are hopeful that the situation will change, teams are working around the clock to ensure that all those displaced are still able to receive food and water.