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27.03.21- One Year of The Calais Food Collective.

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

The 27th of March marks one year since the Calais Food Collective began. At this point in 2020, the impacts of the pandemic had spread globally, and in Northern France the situation was no different. As a consequence, state-funded services providing food had reduced their food provisions from hot food to basic sandwiches, and many NGOs who had otherwise catered for food demand at the border, had made the difficult decision to pause or reduce their services.


This cutback of stable food provisions left displaced people living in Calais and Dunkirk in a critical situation. On top of a lack of safe housing, sanitation provisions and water access points, there was now a food crisis. In five days alone from the 17th-22nd March, Utopia 56, an organisation working in Calais and Dunkirk, recorded 120 requests for emergency food provisions.


And so 7 volunteers began the Calais Food Collective as an emergency response. The team quickly became 10, and appealed for money and donations, enabling a dry food service to begin. The last time a sustained dry food service operated was during the period of the Calais ‘jungle’ where approximately 8,000 displaced people lived, before its huge state demolition in 2016. Dry food was distributed by Calais Kitchens, a sister organisation of Refugee Community Kitchen, between November 2015 and October 2016, when the jungle was evicted and destroyed.


The Calais Food Collective became a project under L’Auberge des Migrants, a French charity, who began to support CFC and provide warehouse space and vans for the project to become viable.



The beginning of The Calais Food Collective in the L'Auberge des Migrants warehouse.


Our very first donation, from Le Message.


Our service aimed to provide packages of dry food and cooking equipment, in order to foster food autonomy and self-governance for communities here at the border. We aimed to distribute in a way that centralised the needs and requests of the community, and distribute in a dignified, fair, and consistent manner. Distributing dry food meant that the risk of viral spread was minimised, as communities were able to cook themselves.


The Collective began distributing food packs which contained rice, lentils, tomatoes, onions, garlic, salt, oil, tea bags and washing up equipment. Donations were sent to the collective by a number of different organisations, and with enough funds, CFC began to be able to order in bulk. From our initial distribution style of individual food packs, we have eventually been able to evolve to use a number of different methods, including free shops and mobile distributions. Through working with the Calais Woodyard, we were able to build up trust within communities to visit living spaces and bring food directly to the people we were serving. We retain the value to work in direct accordance to the needs and desires of communities, and at this point a year on, we run an extremely consistent service that has been adapted to what communities have asked from us.


Distribution of individual dry food packs at the beginning of The Collective.


The team after our first ever distribution to around 1000 people in Calais.


On the 11th of September, the Calais prefecture released a four page document called the arrêté, which ordered the end of “food and drink distributions across Calais”, with effectively no warning. The arrêté consisted of a list of roads in the city centre where distributions were now ‘illegal’, many of which had been our consistent distribution points. The prefecture had the aim of ridding visible displaced people from the town centre. The arrêté claimed that distributions were breaking social distancing measures, it claimed that displaced people disturbed local residents, that large amounts of litter were being produced by them, and that displaced people were violent towards police.


Regrettably, the solution for these claims did not come in the form of safe housing, litter collection, or social care- but instead with the arrêté: yet another form of harassment and exclusion by the state. The contents of this arrêté were incredibly dehumanising towards displaced people, and contained severe racist undertones. Displaced people in Calais have been forced to live in dangerous conditions since the 1990s, and have been victims of violence and abuse from the police and other members of the community for the entirety of this time. Instead of a compassionate solution to homelessness in Calais, the arrêté forced huge movement of people to outer areas of the city. On the 25th of September, a protest against the arrêté took place, involving members of displaced communities, as well as people from 70 aid groups, marching together through Calais.



25/11/20 - ‘Calais rises’ protest against the arrêté, where displaced people and those in solidarity marched through Calais.


In response, the Collective continued to work to provide food and water in points where the arrêté had not ventured. At our first distribution in the town centre where our location had to change to a different, ‘legal’ street, ten police officers harassed the team in spite of the legal basis we had to distribute. Since September 2020, the arrêté has taken on 8 amendments, and has required us to scrutinize their map to be able to give food and water without a basis for legal penalisation.


As well as the city centre, we are currently distributing to 7 sites in Calais, and 2 sites in Dunkirk. Our operations have been witness to vicious eviction cycles, where the state expels displaced people from their living place, and steals property such as tents, blankets, and backpacks. In Calais these expulsions occur every day, and often involve the theft of food, cooking equipment, and water vessels. Along with every other organisation working on the ground, it is a constant challenge for us to cater for the needs of people who are provided with no safe housing, and are constantly moved, stolen from, and are victims of police violence.



Wood from the Calais Woodyard distribution, and food from CFC distributions, in the week of 08.02-14.02.


Through winter, CFC experienced its first year working as one of the organisations who were working through brutal conditions to keep communities safe. The weather saw the desolation of camps through flooding, and through the week of the 8th-14th of February, temperatures fell to minus 6 degrees every single night. With dreadful conditions and the state only providing temporary accommodation, where a bed for one night at a time was even often hard to secure, we were witness to a harsh winter. Here the Calais Woodyard distributed huge amounts of wood, catering to every site, every day, providing warmth for communities, and also securing feasibility for CFC to operate and enable communities to be able to cook for themselves.


Coming out of this week of excruciating temperatures, CFC realised we were facing a water crisis that was even more critical than before. From July, we had started to provide water for communities as only one water point in Calais was made accessible by the state, which was at considerable walking distance for many around the city, and had a constant and heavy police presence that deterred people from walking there. The implications of the arrêté have meant that state-mandated water provisions are not distributed in the city centre, or in the area of Coquelles.


In Coquelles, CFC had been working as the primary source of water since August: providing both bottles, and water from an IBC water tank in our van. On the 2nd of February, we installed a static IBC in Coquelles, in order to provide a constant source of running water. Within 6 days, the police stole this water tank. Once temperatures were consistently reaching minus 6, our IBCs became unusable after freezing over. Even with our best efforts, our solutions were not able to compare to a safe, plumbed source of running water.


The daily refill of our IBC in Coquelles.


Through this water crisis, we have been working to place pressure on the state and appeal for access to water, as they have an obligation to respect and provide for basic human water rights, with the help of La Cabane Juridique (the Legal Shelter) and PSM (Plateforme des Soutiens aux Migrantes). But change cannot come quickly enough. From our initial installation, at the beginning of February, to this point in time at the end of March, populations in Coquelles have soared from 130 to over 300. In mid-March we launched our emergency water fundraiser with the aim to keep our operation sustainable with such a vast proportion of our funding draining into water provisions.


Our story then leads up to now, where CFC have one year behind us. We have experienced a year of challenges: from the restrictions of the arrêté, to mass evictions and emergency food packs, to the current water crisis. Our services have evolved from prescribed dry food packs, to sustainable and consistent distributions that promote autonomy, and aim to know and stand with communities we work for.


It has been a success and a failure that CFC have operated on such a huge scale, and provided for so many people who have lived and passed through Calais and Dunkirk. In one regard, every day of every week, we have succeeded in distributing food to communities who live here. We have been able to fulfill our aim that we put forward at the proposition of our project, to respond to the requests of displaced people to provide dry food, and we have promoted food autonomy and self-governance.


On the other hand, however, our work has been excusatory for the failures of the state. By nature, we were set up as an emergency response team to cater for the urgent need at the height of the pandemic, and a year later that emergency still persists. Right now we are still witnesses to the horrendous conditions that the state leaves displaced people to live in, and we are still providing a service that they should have the obligation to provide; along with safe housing, social care, and safe routes for asylum. We are still witnesses to the victims of the UK-France border.


To draw our conclusions at this point, one year on, we place our resentment towards the state who are not only failing displaced people in Northern France, but are responsible for harassment, abuse and deep mistreatment. We retain our promise to continue to provide for communities here and utilise every effort to continue providing a service that is based upon request, and fosters autonomy. We recognise our service as a supplement for state food services, and use this statement in protest against the state.


We would like to give our thanks to every person and organisation who has stood by our side: worked with us, donated to us, provided for us, and believed in our sentiment:


To our partners on the ground who allow us to physically operate: the Calais Woodyard, Utopia 56, Human Rights Observers, Refugee Women’s Centre, Refugee Info Bus and Refugee Youth Service.


To La Cabane Juridique and Platforme des Soutiens aux Migrants who have supported us heavily on advocacy projects and legal work.


To our official partners: L’Auberge des Migrants, Help Refugees and Donate4Refugees for providing support, direction and resources.


And finally, to all organisations who have donated and provided for us. Thank you.


Donate to our water fundraiser: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/calais-food-collective1




From the Calais Food Collective.


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