Photo courtesy of Bret Windhauser (C’18)
By Fleming Smith
When people hear the word “jungle,” they are likely to think of tall trees, rain, and any number of exotic plants and animals. In northern France, a different place now bears the name Jungle—the Calais refugee camp. Bret Windhauser (C’18) spent his summer at this international hub learning the day-to-day of humanitarian work in the midst of the largest refugee crisis in recent history.
“I accepted the internship in the Jungle because it was different than all the other camps, as it is both a transit camp and an illegal settlement,” explains Windhauser. “This means that there are no international organizations, non-governmental organizations, or even United Nations officials operating in the camp. There is also no police presence inside of the camps unless they go in for demolition, and murders and assaults in camp are not investigated.”
Windhauser acted as a team leader, organizing short-term volunteers for various duties around the camp. He often helped with distribution of clothing, food, and toiletries, as well as construction and translation. Some volunteers arranged art workshops along with French and English language classes for camp residents, many of whom hoped to travel to the United Kingdom.
“Most people try to get across by sneaking onto [trucks] either at the gas station or on the highway when they stop or slow down, and hopefully the car will not be checked at the border so they can get on the ferry,” says Windhauser. “Besides paying smugglers, this is the only way for the nearly 7,000 refugees in the Jungle to make it to the U.K.” Recently, the United Kingdom began construction of a 13-foot wall to keep Calais refugees from jumping onto nearby trucks.
Refugees travel to the Calais camp from all over the world, seeking safety from violence or persecution.
“The two biggest populations making up most of the Jungle are from Sudan and Afghanistan. There are also significant numbers from Eritrea, Iraq, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Libya,” Windhauser explains.
During his internship, he discovered that each day at the camp provided new challenges, some of which proved dangerous even to volunteers.
“Work in camp is difficult, mainly by the police who inspect everyone and every vehicle entering the Jungle,” says Windhauser. “There is a fair amount of harassment as well as the daily tear gassing, rubber bullets, and nightly sirens. There are also…racial tensions that break into riots, which leads to fast spreading fires in tightly built wooden and tent shelters.”
Windhauser’s experience in the Calais Jungle camp cemented his desire to become a professional humanitarian worker after college. This semester, he chose to study abroad in Jordan.
“Altogether I personally met people from 23 countries between Northern and Central Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Right now, I am studying abroad in Jordan with the School for International Training in a program called Refugees, Health, and Humanitarian Action,” says Windhauser. “I think it is everyone’s responsibility to know about [refugees] and their struggles, as the amount of displaced people is larger than it has ever been and still growing.”