CONTESTING THE NEGLIGENCE AND VIOLENCE OF THE BORDER REGIME IN CALAIS
WITH FOOD AND WATER FOR ALL
Calais Food Collective is a grassroots collective supporting displaced people in Calais by advocating for food and water autonomy.
The situation in Calais is volatile and constantly changing, so we aim to be flexible and support people in the way that best suits them. This means we also give out emergency food packs to communities after police evictions.
The response to our service, alongside the relationships of trust and the routine we have established amongst communities, is why we plan to continue our services for as long as we are needed.
In our work we also seek to support and build partnerships with with the local community. For example by lending hands to farms in the area.
Calais Food Collective is part of the umbrella organisation Calais Appeal, and operates in partnership with the other members which provide many other equally important services in Calais.
We set up in spring 2020 as an emergency response to the pandemic when other NGOs were forced to suspend services, to ensure people still had access to food. The decision to provide ingredients was in part due to necessity of social distancing guidelines, but through this we found that people preferred this way of working, as it enabled greater autonomy in cooking their own food - suiting their own tastes and schedules. We operate as a mobile distribution, bringing the food directly to living sites to allow access to our service without shaping their day around it. We distribute four days a week across different sites in Calais, reaching approximately 1000 people.
We also provide water, since January 2021, as the state-mandated water provision has been completely insufficient. As of January 2023, we now have 6 semi-permanent water tanks installed in living sites to improve access. We collaborate with other NGOs local and national to lobby the local authorities for taps to be installed instead; we are painfully aware that our work maintaining and refilling these water tanks could be so easily replaced by a cheap and efficient state-funded project that would meet the state's obligations with regards to the human right to water access.
Calais Food Collective has been actively involved in advocacy projects that push for the respect of displaced people by the French authorities.
The obligation of the French state to uphold the human rights of all individuals, along with the responsibility of local authorities in Northern France to establish structures guaranteeing these rights, is indisputable. These rights encompass such things as access to water, freedom from torture, rights to property, to the right to feed yourself in dignity. Rather than fulfilling their obligations these rights, the authorities not only neglect to create the necessary structures but also actively implement policies and engage in operations that flagrantly disregard these rights. Our advocacy work aims to shed light on these rights violations and demand their fulfilment.
The woefully inadequate state mandated water provision is one of the key focuses of the advocacy work we do. We attempt to fill in the gap by filling and maintaining water tanks at the living sites in Calais. In tandem with this, we advocate for the state to fulfil the Europe-wide commitments to ensure access to at least 50 litres of drinking water per day, as well as unconditional, continuous access to water sanitation and hygiene facilities regardless of their legal status. Whilst we remain critical of the efficacy of large intranational and state bodies such as the United Nations and the Defenseur des Droits, we have found it necessary to use these platforms to draw attention to these human rights violations and put pressure on the governing bodies responsible to take action. Our strategy therefore relies on the gathering of data and testimony, in collaboration with other associations in the field to support litigation against the authorities.
We submitted a report for the periodic review of France by the UN in the autumn of 2022, written in collaboration with Solidarites International and Calais Appeal, in which we presented the severe shortcomings of the state's water supply for displaced people across Northern France. Four countries have made recommendations for France to address the issue of water access for displaced people - with many more making recommendations on the protection of displaced people's rights.
In February 2023, CFC was part of a submission to the Defenseur Des Droits in regards to water access for displaced people in Northern France (Calais, Dunkirk & Ouistreham). The DDD will now be conducting research and provide recommendations to the state on their failure to meet human rights requirements on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH).
We have been publicising our actions and pressuring the local authorities to take responsibility by providing adequate refuse collection, through press communications and open letters to the mayor, Natacha Bouchart. So far, the mobilisation has collected over 2500 bags of rubbish in the past 6 months. However, we remain adamant that this effort would not be necessary if the state installed skips and committed to having them regularly emptied by refuse disposal services.
This wilful negligence can be understood as part of the state's 'no fixation policy' - where, alongside regular evictions by the police, they refuse to provide essential amenities at living sites. This policy of deterrence seeks to make life in Calais as a displaced person as inhumane as possible in order to discourage people from trying to cross the Channel. Crucially, the provision of even the most basic of services would entail an acknowledgement of their legal presence in Calais, triggering additional legal obligations to ensure a dignified existence for the people living there. The French state's determination to sacrifice the dignity of people living on French soil for the enforcement of this needlessly violent and hostile border regime is something that cannot and will not be excused.
The right to a clean environment is fundamental to a dignified and healthy existence, the local authorities are capable of fulfilling this but choose not to. In the absence of any bins for the living sites in Calais, we carry out litter picks every two weeks with the support of the displaced people living there, local Calaisians and other associations.
We are not taking on the responsibility of the state but instead see this as an opportunity to create bonds between different people that have a shared goal of a cleaner environment - local residents, environmental groups etc. Through the summer we hope to mobilise all of these groups and create links - becoming a larger presence to demand for the prefecture to take action. You can follow this mobilisation on instagram @calaisploubelle
The racist narrative whereby displaced people are depicted as unsanitary and unable to 'integrate' into 'Western society' is directly fuelled by the state's deliberate withholding of water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and refuse collection services. We condemn this performative cruelty, which forces people on the move into undignified, unsanitary conditions and has a direct impact on their physical and mental wellbeing.
If you would like to volunteer with us in Calais, please get in contact with us:
Due to the nature of this work, we’re looking for people who are self motivated and happy to stay for 2-3 months minimum.
If you have some disposable income and would like to support CFC directly: please sign up as a regular donor.
Regular supporters are invaluable to our long term sustainability.
If you have any friends or family whose work involves large quantities of food, tea, coffee, olive oil or cooking equipment: we’d love to hear from you, and try to convince you to convince them to make a generous donation.
If you have family, friends (or you yourself) work at a company with its own charitable foundation: please get in contact! Many charitable foundations prefer supporting causes recommended from within the company, and we can help send materials to show the need is desperately high.
If you would like to run your own fundraiser (eg. running a marathon, jogging 5k, a workplace dressing up competition, a primary school disco): we’d be happy to send you flyers with more info on our work and we’d be hugely grateful!
If you’d like to run your own fundraiser but you’re not sure quite what: we can chat on the phone and think of ideas. Drop us an email to get the conversation started.
If you would like to do a pots and pans collection: we can advise you on what pots and pans are most useful and help you find cars driving to Calais if you aren’t able to do so yourself.
In addition to the above: You (your friends and family) can download Lilo, a solidarity search engine, and use it instead of Google. Click here to see how this can earn us money.