I spent most of the spring in 2021 trying to find the right internship for me, as I had just finished university. I already knew about the situation for many displaced people in Calais, so when I found an opportunity to join RYS as an intern, I decided that it was time to see for myself how the so-called “refugee crisis” is still evolving in the North of France.
In my position with RYS’s outreach team I had to do both office support work and everyday visits to the living sites around Calais. Already after my first few weeks here, I came to the realization that almost every living site changes weekly in one way or another but never for the better. The people living there have to endure horrible conditions that don't really allow them to live, but simply to survive. One of the most vulnerable groups in these sites are the children, and this is where RYS steps in.
Focussing on a holistic approach the team manages to help and support displaced unaccompanied minors. The main goal is to inform the minors about their rights and help them enter the French child protection service, but at the same time, we cooperate with other organisations in Calais that distribute clothes, food and other essential items, in order to improve the condition of the children while they are still living in the makeshift living sites. In this way, we try to take care of both the physical and the mental health of the minors that we meet, through our own activities and our connections to other services.
The key to accomplishing our goal of getting children out of the harsh living sites and entered into the protection services, is through our everyday presence in these sites. By showing up everyday and taking the time to meet the communities and the children that live within them, we create a stable and safe relationship with displaced minors.
The tools we use are simple, yet meaningful. A board game, an English lesson, a barber shop, some music and a cup of tea can really make a difference and open a door to build a trustworthy relationship with minors. Through playing and sharing our favorite music, minors get to communicate their needs to us and let us know about their overall situation in Calais. This co-creation of a safe space is what gives minors a chance to remain children and forget their daily struggles for a while and instead feel supported and heard.
The situation as I have found it in Calais is more than unacceptable regarding human rights violations and the standard of the living conditions, which are inhumane and puts adults and minors alike in a constant state of survival while in northern France. Everyday people have to go through evictions from their living sites, face police brutality, have their basic needs neglected by the authorities, their presence questioned by the local community, and essentially have to stay in the shadows as unwanted aliens.
After spending 2 months with RYS, I can attest to the fact that the presence of organisations like RYS, and people in solidarity with people on the move, doesn’t solve the reasons that put people in situations like this in the first place, but I have experienced for myself that it does make a difference for the people present in Calais.
The indifference of the French and British governments to the lives of displaced people and the disregard of their obligations as part of the international community, is on full display in Calais, and it is harming people. This is why I find being a part of the RYS team meaningful, because Refugee Youth Service is one of the independent organisations that works daily with the focus of giving displaced unaccompanied children the opportunity and safe environment that allows them to decide their own lives and dare to dream of a better future for themselves. The ability to give as many children as possible this chance matters now, even if the political questions and negligence have yet to be resolved.