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'Devastating and incredible': Irish volunteers on life in the Jungle

“You’re in France and within five or six steps you’re walking into a third world country.”

ON 1 OCTOBER, 54 volunteers left Ireland for the Jungle, a refugee camp in Calais, France.

The new Jungle was set up in April after the previous camp was demolished.

The Guardian reports that aid workers based there have been overwhelmed by the number of refugees and migrants who have arrived in recent months.

The Irish convoy was organised by Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity, which was set up by Tracey Ryan and Elaine Mernagh.

image Conditions within the camp

It comprised of three articulated trucks, six vans and a medical team. Some 4,000 people, mainly men, are currently living in the Jungle.

The volunteers went to Calais after a huge national response to an appeal for supplies and donations.

Last month, the charity had to ask people to stop donating items as its 70 depots were overflowing. At the time of publication, over €87,000 had been raised online.

image (1) One of the convoy trucks of Irish aid being unloaded in Calais

The volunteers returned home during the week.

Rachael O’Sullivan told TheJournal.ie the group is only now starting to process what they witnessed during their trip.

It was devastating and incredible … You’re in France and within five or six steps you’re walking into a third world country.

Rachael said the group helped people from several different countries, including Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan.

She felt compelled to go on the trip after becoming “alarmed at the slowness of the response by our government and NGOs”, stating: “We needed to act.”

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“I don’t have the option of going away for six weeks or five weeks, but to go for a week was doable.”

Rachael said there is “very little NGO presence” at the camp, with those who are there “completely understaffed and overwhelmed”.

She said the living and sanitation standards are “absolutely appalling”.

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Rachael noted that people are trying to bury and burn rubbish, adding the smell of feaces becomes very apparent when it rains.

“Four thousand people’s waste is not being disposed of.”

Rachael added that when the group was leaving, a Syrian refugee turned to one of the nurses and said: ‘When you arrived we no longer felt like refugees.’

While there, the volunteers helped to build shelters and a centre for women and children.

Photos from Ireland Calais Refugee... - Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity | Facebook Volunteers building a shelter

Photos from Ireland Calais Refugee... - Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity | Facebook Volunteers building a shelter

12108215_405214249603085_6270267051795674394_n A shelter the group built for a pregnant woman who has since given birth to a son.

12107020_405214256269751_2869531563785545824_n The shelter's interior

Catherine, a student nurse, was part of the convoy’s medical team.

She recalled how she and another nurse helped get a seriously ill man to hospital.

We went into a tent and there was one man on the floor with his brother lying on his lap. We took one look and we knew that he was in trouble. We thought ‘He’s going to die if he doesn’t go to hospital now’.

Catherine said the man (26) was unresponsive, extremely cold and “very, very emaciated”. She said they were unsure of what was wrong with him, but his pupils didn’t respond to light – indicating some form of brain damage.

Emergency services are not allowed into the camp so the volunteers arranged for an ambulance to meet them near an exit.

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The family was Eritrean but the man’s brother spoke Englsih, allowing them to communicate.

“Four people lifted him out and raced up through the Jungle with him on a blanket,” Catherine said.

They found out the next day he was still alive, but in a coma in hospital.

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Catherine said that much of what the team witnessed in the camp was “horrific, so upsetting”, adding: “I was shook afterwards, more angry.”

“Men are dying and they are afraid to approach anyone and they can’t get the help that’s needed,” she said.

Not once did we feel threatened, people were so grateful.

Catherine intends to return to the camp a few months down the line.

She said the team helped about 1,000 people in the few days they were present – mainly for chest infections, sickness, ankle and leg injuries, and broken bones.

She described many people as “visible torture cases”.

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Rachael said the charity intends to soon hold a nationwide meeting to decide how best to proceed and spend the money that’s still being donated, and whether another group of volunteers will be sent out.

If so, she said they’re primarily looking for people with medical and building skills, as well as those from a legal background as they want to document alleged human rights abuses experienced by the refugees both before and after entering the camp.

More information on the group is available here. To donate, click here.

All images: Facebook

Read: Charity asks people to STOP donating items for refugees as they’re inundated

Read: Banksy’s theme park taken apart to build refugee shelters

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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