The Dunkirk camp is burnt to the ground and the Jungle demolished, but the Refugee Community Kitchen remains in northern France providing hot food for those who are still fleeing war and destruction. JANIE MAC explains
ON December 1 2015 Refugee Community Kitchen served its first meal in the Jungle in Calais.
We have since been serving food day-in, day-out without question ever since. At the height of the Jungle we were serving over 2,000 meals a day with a total now served of over a million meals since setting up.
Even with witnessing evictions and fires on a regular basis and the final eviction and destruction of the Jungle and Dunkirk sites, we managed as best we could to respond to the food needs of the refugees.
With the Jungle destroyed the authorities hoped that would be the end of refugees arriving in Calais, that people wouldn’t arrive if there was no place for them to come to.
But people fleeing war and famine from Eretria and Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria don’t know that the Jungle isn’t there any more; in fact they didn’t know the Jungle was there in the first place. All they know is they want a chance of a life.
This is being proven to be the case as more and more refugees arrive in northern France. With the Dunkirk camp burnt to the ground and no Jungle, the authorities have taken the cruel stance of not letting these people settle.
What we see now is worse than it has ever been. There is no infrastructure, no water, no toilets, no nothing.
Many minors still arriving are unaccompanied (I prefer to call them children) and they sleep in the woods and the ditches — this is if they are allowed sleep at all.
The confrontations with the CRS riot police are relentless and inhumane. They are moved on, moved out, moved anywhere but the spot that they find you. People aren’t being offered any options, no information, nowhere to turn to, no hope. Welcome to Europe. Food has become the political hot potato. To control food is to control the people.
The mayor of Calais brought in bans on feeding refugees in certain areas, with the rhetoric that if we feed them it will only attract them.
Every day now is a game of cat and mouse. We have to change our distribution points regularly when we hear news of the police blocking our efforts and putting time restrictions on our service — generally obstructing the humanitarian mission to feed those in need with searches and vehicle stops.
We have watched the ebbs and flows of media interest and the agenda of hate which is being used by the right in this crisis using refugees and migrants as the current weapon of choice to bring fear into our houses.
They’re stealing our jobs, claiming benefits, they’re terrorists and the most repeated to us: “Why don’t you look after your own?” And we had an answer to that — we do.
With the skill set that we had among our volunteers who wanted to help but who couldn’t get themselves to Calais or Dunkirk it would have been short-sighted not to set something up in Britain.
We realised that the few refugees who did manage to get to Britain often had no support and, although given leave to stay, they couldn’t work or get any benefits, eventually finding themselves homeless. We knew this would be adding to the ever-increasing homelessness problem in Britain.
In October 2016, 10 months after setting up in Calais, we took to the streets and set up a homeless outreach in London. Any person who is displaced, even in their own country, and is seeking help, we hope we can offer some help in the form of a hot meal. Currently Refugee Community Kitchen serve over 300 meals a week over three nights in Camden Town and will be starting an outreach in Hackney in the first week of July.
The clients get served a hot main meal served with rice, along with salads, fresh fruits, puddings, breads and more. The majority of the food served at the outreach is rescued food or waste food, collected and delivered by volunteers, chopped prepared and cooked in our own houses.
People have asked us how do we know who is homeless, who is a refugee? How do we judge who needs food? But we don’t know and we won’t ask.
If somebody is coming to outreach for food and not at home sharing a meal with family or friends then there must be a reason for us to feed them and feeding without judgement is what Refugee Community Kitchen does.
The clients on the ground are varied, the social issues are different, but the marginalisation is still very much the same everywhere. Our clients are refugees, the homeless, people from hostels, old age pensioners and people with mental and physical health issues who are not in a position to look after themselves.
Refugee Community Kitchen is committed to providing good healthy, wholesome food for the refugees during the continuing crisis for as long as we can.
With the famine taking hold of east Africa creating the movement of 20 million people and the continuing exodus of people from countries at war, living under dictatorship, fear of torture, and poverty, without a global conversation it looks like this is going to be a long and painful journey, not just for those on the move but also for those that can see no end of this struggle and those who are trying to make a difference.
We are still in Calais and Dunkirk providing over 1,000 meals a day. We provide food to Syria, Serbia, Paris and London. None of the struggles are newsworthy anymore, all yesterday’s news. What can we tell a 15-year-old who has lost his family but wants to study to be in the navy or the 19-year-old who speaks three languages and has walked thousands of miles, to the old lady who should be safe at home watching her grandchildren grow, what do we tell them?
That this is it? We can offer food and love, but trying to give them hope when there is no help and our hands are tied is a lie too far.
Janie Mac is a founding member of the Refugee Community Kitchen.
If you want to get involved email us at email@example.com for Calais/Dunkirk and RCKoutreach@gmail.com for Britain, or you can visit refugeecommunitykitchen.com for more information or to donate.