‘Calais Jungle began very differently.

It was originally written as an angst-ridden ditty about going back to work after a rainy summer holiday in August.

I imagined myself scheming to skive off the office job and drive as far away as possible for a long weekend in the closest foreign land.

Somewhere like Calais.


I’m ashamed to say I was pretty unmoved when I read brief snippets on social media about the migrant ‘crisis situation’ in summer 2015. Illegal immigrants attempting to get into the UK by hiding in French lorries? That’s been happening for years, hasn’t it?  My only personal experience of Calais had been numerous family trips filling my dad’s old Land Rover with a large supply of alcohol. It wasn’t until my English degree-wielding wife started to correct my vocabulary that I started to take more interest. ‘They’re not migrants, Dan,’ she insisted, ‘they are refugees’.

I wasn’t entirely wrong, of course; I’ve since watched interviews with young men who could certainly fall into the economic migrant category. But it was my lack of upkeep with foreign affairs further afield than Calais that made it right for my wife to correct me. By the time the picture of that 3 year old was released on September 3rd 2015 (his family had been attempting to reach Kos, my family’s old favourite holiday destination), I was regularly coming home to find Susannah in tears, laptop on her knees with the latest news report in front of her.

She became convinced we must do something to help. It wasn’t enough to just give money to charities working over there when we ourselves lived such a short distance away. The opportunity arose when a friend of ours from YWAM Biarritz began to give firsthand accounts of the chaos over in Lesvos, Greece, on Facebook. He shared stories of hundreds of families risking their lives each day, packed onto rubber dinghies at gunpoint by smugglers, hoping to reach mainland Greece via sea from Turkey. Knowing she could work alongside some familiar faces, Susannah flew over to Lesvos to volunteer at one of the refugee camps for a week, aided by close friends wanting to financially help her with the trip.

Making a change

Hearing real life stories from Lesvos, of normal ‘modern-day’ families making the gut-wrenching decision to leave everything behind, began to really hit home when she returned. They are not moving to ‘take Europe’s jobs’ or ‘try out a better quality of life,’ she explained; most are fleeing their homes because of the threat of death, be it from ISIS or their own governments’ corruption.

As you can imagine, ‘Calais Jungle’s’ lyrics started to change somewhat at this point. The line ‘If I’m starting not to care, because the war is over there…’ is a reminder first and foremost to myself; never again should I be apathetic to overseas conflict.

I joined Susannah on a trip over to the ‘Jungle’ on a Saturday in February. We spent most of the day clearing rubbish in the Sudanese section. Glad to be useful, I relished the opportunity to do something practical but also began to realise the extent of the problem. In Calais, thousands of refugees have little to nothing but the clothes on their backs and the items they can find to build shelter. They have risked everything to get there. They can give their fingerprints and be newly housed in a shipping container, but unless deemed a ‘legitimate’ refugee after giving such data, they face risk of deportation or months of waiting for asylum to be granted.

The solution

There isn’t a clear solution yet. Yes, we as the surrounding countries could all increase our quotas of people we are letting in. Yes, we should probably sacrifice some of the UK’s internal budget and prioritise refugee aid. Yes, Mr Cameron should allow UK children’s charities help house the heartbreaking number of unaccompanied minors caught up in this mess. But, I’m advocating we should all try and get over to Calais for at least a day and do what we can to help. Some of us need to see the problem to be part of the solution.

I live in London. I know we’re all working long hours to keep up with the rent prices, but it’s so easy to become self-absorbed here. Does everyone look the same to me? Do I value others’ lives as much as my own? If you’re anything like me, we need to start overcoming our preconceived notions of people based on appearances, lifestyles and jobs. Refugee or city banker- we’re all in this world together. Difference is, that right now there’s millions of refugees who need our help. Ironically, it’ll likely help you as much as it helps them.
Calais is doable in a day- let’s take a drive, Brits.



***Care4Calais, a British volunteer’s initiative is helping on the ground in a warehouse in Calais, discovering the most important needs and distributing aid accordingly in the ‘Jungle’. Susannah recently returned from 4 days working with them and they are desperate for volunteers. Their website explains how you can get involved directly and what donations are needed at any given time (e.g warm shoes, socks, blankets etc)


**Home for Good is one such charity, where 10,000 UK families have registered interest in housing unaccompanied minors.


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