The Situation in France
Back in 2016 the Calais Jungle encampment, the 1.5 square mile area of land which had become a symbol of migration in Europe, was dismantled. The “humanitarian crisis” that started there pushed humanitarians across the globe to speak out against conditions in the camps, where refugees were subject to police violence, health concerns and appalling conditions.
Despite the disassembling of the Jungle, refugees and migrants in northern France continue to live in a precarious and hostile environment. The area remains the focal point for refugees and migrants attempting to reach the UK, with thousands of people (including unaccompanied children) living in make-shift encampments in and surrounding Calais, Dunkirk and Grande-Synthe.
As of mid-2021, an estimated 2,000 people resided in Calais encampments, with several hundred more in the surrounding forest areas.
Displaced adults and children living in such encampments have systematically faced degrading treatment and violations of their fundamental and human rights. The conditions of these camps have been described as desperate and degrading by Human Rights Watch, as the lack of state-provided WASH services leave individuals without consistent access to proper sanitation, shelter, medical care, or even food.
"the CNCDH considers that the deterioration of the conditions under which exiled persons survive in the border area and the recurrent violation of their fundamental rights are unacceptable"
Refugees and migrants also face constant threat and insecurity imposed by police and legal authorities. Policing practices in northern France are shaped by a deterrence policy, where officials employ hostile practices to discourage migrants being drawn to the area and establishing anchor points in the form of encampments. In the first month of 2022, police authorities in northern France carried out over 150 evictions, seizing tents, tarps and items from displaced individuals. The following tactics by French authorities have been documented:
brutal mass evictions
the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and batons
the confiscation of tents, sleeping bags, mobile phones and identity papers.
As a result, refugees are forced to live in inhospitable conditions or seek protection in further isolated and uncertain environments. Policing activities have not halted migratory practices: they have merely made the lives of children and adults who have fled dangerous and tumultuous conditions increasingly unbearable.
Indigo Partners in France
In this context, the work of humanitarian organisations and volunteers is vital in bridging the gap and providing essential life-saving services to displaced populations. At Indigo Volunteers, we are proud to be partnered with the following organisations restoring dignity to displaced individuals in France.
The Refugee Women’s Centre
The Refugee Women’s Centre (RWC) provides holistic support for migrant women and families living in accommodation centres and informal settlements around Calais and Grande-Synthe. The mobile team is committed to creating safe spaces for women and children, and advocating against discriminatory policies that are exacerbated by gender.
Currently, government services do not sufficiently address the needs of women and girls in encampments. As an example, Calais encampments have no separate toilets for women, and the lack of adequate lighting for showers and toilets render women and girls vulnerable to attacks. In this context, the RWC’s commitment to standing in solidarity with female refugees has a life-saving impact for women within displaced communities.
Indigo’s Volunteers support RWC’s daily operations through a diverse range of responsibilities:
Distributing clothing, bedding and hygiene products
Redirecting women and family units to appropriate legal and medical services
Providing information about shelter and access to shelter
Monitoring needs and concerns of women and families, and responding to reports of sexual and gender-based violence
Recording data and testimonies of human rights abuses
Escorting women to local shower facilities
The RWC is currently in need of the following roles:
Refugee Community Kitchen
The Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) provides culturally familiar, nutritious food to displaced people in Calais and Dunkirk. The work of Indigo's volunteers with the RCK ensures consistent and reliable access to food, directly addressing and alleviating the uncertainty surrounding aid distributions and access to food.
The RCK welcomes volunteers of all cooking abilities, as roles are varied and may include:
Preparing and Cooking delicious meals
Driving and distributing meals
The RCK currently requires the following roles:
Kitchen and Services Volunteer
Calais Food Collective
The Calais Food Collective advocates for food and water access, with volunteers sorting and distributing goods to displaced communities across Northern France. This grassroots collective distributes water for drinking, cooking and washing, as well as a variety of food items ranging from dry goods to fresh fruit and vegetables. The range of ingredients is a key aspect of their work: beyond providing access to food items, this practice ensures people retain a degree of autonomy in the ability to choose and manage their food items.
Volunteers can take on a wide variety of roles within the Collective, including:
Packing and sorting food in the warehouse
Distributing food and water
Communication and Advocacy
Currently, the Calais Food Collective supports 1000-2000 people depending on the season, and only expects this number to grow. As a collective, they rely on the collaboration and dedication of volunteers to continue providing daily access to food and water services.
The Calais Food Collective are in need of the following role:
Long Term Volunteer
Collective Aid operates in the Balkans and in Calais. Volunteers distribute bedding, clothing and hygiene items to the 1000-2000 displaced people around Calais, who are sleeping in patches of forest and disused land. The main roles of Indigo's volunteers include:
Warehouse work i.e. Sorting donations to maintain quality standards
Distributing non-food items, including clothing, tents and blankets
The items distributed serve as a life-line for displaced individuals, particularly during the upcoming winter months. Access to tents, blankets and warm clothes provide extra protection for displaced individuals against freezing conditions and winter temperatures, which can drop to as low as -5 degrees Celsius.
Due to the constant risk of evictions and harassment, those who flee their homes may have to abandon crucial belongings, which may also be confiscated during evictions. In such situations, it is essential to have an organisation that can regularly provide material items that may have been lost, left behind or confiscated.
Collective Aid France is currently in need of the following roles:
Advocacy and Communication Officer
Long Term Team Member
General Volunteer (NFI & WASH)
Project Play is an organisation providing safe spaces for families and children across Calais and Dunkirk. Although individuals all around the world aged under 18 years old are classified as a child, experiencing childhood is not universal. Displaced children are victims of extreme loss, upheaval, and have been forced to experience dangerous conditions that have no place in childhood.
Play is an excellent tool to mitigate the impact of trauma and to build resilience, and ensuring a child’s right to play is key as they navigate unsafe and stressful environments.
Indigo’s volunteers are involved in a range of activities, including:
Creating session plans and coming up with activities according to the volunteers' unique skills.
Packing resources for the day's sessions
Organising stock and incoming donations
Most importantly: Playing!
Through activities ranging from arts and crafts to football, volunteers provide vulnerable children with a safe and familiar space, where they can experience moments of joy within turmoil.
Project Play is currently in need of the following roles:
Volunteer Play-worker and Teacher
Roots was founded in 2017 to improve living conditions in the Grande-Synthe refugee camps through environmentally conscious practices. The aim of the organisation is to maintain a clean, more hygienic, and dignified living space for refugees in informal refugee camps, whilst enhancing their quality of life through electronic products made in the Roots workshop.
Volunteers with Roots provide the following crucial services:
Provide safe drinking water and washing facilities
Create and implement sanitation projects e.g. showers, to keep the camps clean
Build power banks, torches, hand-warmers and charging stations in an electronic workshop
Provide daily phone charging station with wifi for digital inclusion – this allows individuals to access online information and maintain links with family members
Indigo’s volunteers help run all aspects of Roots’ work, from learning to build sustainable sanitation and electronic devices to participating in Big Camp Clean Ups.
Roots is currently in need of volunteers for the following roles:
Long Term Volunteer
The First Aid Support Team (FAST) operates in Calais and Dunkirk, and consists of qualified volunteer healthcare professionals who provide first aid to displace individuals. Due to a lack of access to medical facilities and resources, many displaced individuals suffer from untreated illnesses and injuries. The work of FAST is driven by the desire to fill this gap and ensure basic needs are met: volunteers not only address the basic health care needs of displaced individuals, but they crucially operate in a manner that prioritises treating service users with dignity and respect.
Distribute hygiene items
Provide first aid support and basic healthcare
Act as a triage service to ensure service users can access appropriate care.
In 2022 alone, FAST provided aid on 9770 occasions to displaced people, and made 658 referrals to other healthcare professionals to ensure those in need received the specialist care they required.
FAST currently require qualified healthcare professionals for the following roles:
Volunteer Field Coordinator
Volunteer Field Worker
At Indigo, we staff, train, and support our partners as they help refugees in France
Every day our charity partners have access to:
Fee-free connections to skilled volunteers We conduct fee-free volunteer matching to connect committed and skilled volunteers with the organisations above; volunteers help our partners run their operations and deliver crucial services to populations in need.
Effortless recruitment By organising volunteer-matching, we alleviate our partners of the administrative tasks involved in volunteer recruitment. This allows them to focus more time, energy and resources on delivering their life-changing projects.
Training & Mental health support For all our partners and volunteers we provide access to mental health support, training and resources that amplify the impact of projects whilst caring for the needs of all individuals involved.
Ultimately, we are only able to continue supporting our partners through the ongoing contributions of our incredible Indigo donors.
As winter approaches, the existence of individuals sleeping in make-shift encampments will only be exacerbated by freezing conditions.
The need for volunteers will become even more urgent.
Do you want to help?
Apply to volunteer with one of these incredible organisations.
Set up a regular donation.