Our First Visit to a Jungle: Dunkirk Camp

Posted by Kaylee K on Monday, October 17, 2016 Under: France

We stop at the security check point and sign in. As we enter the Dunkirk camp, we pass many men in the mobile station charging phones and accessing WiFi. The dirt road winds right where we see the latrines and then left, leading us to the kitchen (pictured above). As we go through the tent that covers the dining area and water station, several Afghan men greet us and direct us to the kitchen. There we find a cement block building housing food donations. As we walk through we are greeted by the sounds of music and laughter and find volunteers sitting together and to their right several asylum seekers huddled around the fire pit. They are all quite welcoming. 

What is most striking about this camp is how orderly everything seems, while at the same time things feel in limbo…it is a place of living in the unknown. We meet families living in wooden sheds the size of the sheds in many yards in America. Row after row of these sheds house people from a variety of ethnicities and faiths. Some have set up little patios; some have strung up clothes lines. None have electricity or running water. There is a layer of dirt on everything and everyone. 

There are many children spanning from babies to teens. Some of the young boys we encounter seem a bit aggressive in their play. We visit a school where kids spent the day decorating the fence with paint, which eventually made its way onto the swing set as well as the clothes and faces of children and teachers alike. They are setting up for a tea party and we are invited to participate.

The irony of the welcome and invitation we received while visiting is not lost on us. We know that the people who invite us in are those who are not very welcome in Europe. They are asylum seekers. They have come here after fleeing their countries often risking their lives and paying smugglers to take them on a journey none of us would want to experience. The camps in France have been termed “jungles” by asylum seekers as this best represents to them the experience of living in these squalid, makeshift places of dirt, mud and few resources.

There is, understandably, something heavy in the air here. We are approached by a man who recognizes that we are American and wants to know if we know how he can be resettled in America or Canada. Apparently, things for him in France seem hopeless. Yet, we do not have a way to help at this moment. There must be a way to find hope and a future without yet another journey across water and land to yet another foreign country. 

What we do know is that when we are living in Northern France full time, we'll be able to develop relationships that encourage and that build community. Being here for this week makes us grateful that we’ll have this opportunity in the not-too-distant future. We will be able to work with many churches that are finding ways to help the refugees in their communities, to support their work and to model how to take this beyond transactional interactions and into relationships that rebuild hope and identity. We plan to have a Day Center to which we can invite and welcome the asylum seekers while they navigate the process for securing asylum and wait upon the decision of the government on their status in France. The need for this is great – a place to provide help and share friendship. A place where we can be part of the community that helps asylum seekers and refugees see they are not alone, they can have a new start and there is a future that is brighter than life in the jungle.

In : France 

Tags: france  refugees  camp  children  jungles 

Blog Authors

John and Kaylee Kolditz Kaylee founded Refugee Connect in 2008. John joined the work in 2011 as we investigated the refugee situation in Europe. But our faith and cross-cultural journeys have been a work-in-progress for many years. Much of this blog reflects that. ************************************************ We met in Austin, TX, while volunteering at a serving event at Gateway Church and have been married since 2002. Marriage, parenting and ministry all require a great deal of intentionality, humility and true reliance on God for strength, wisdom, and grace. It is a journey we are grateful to be on together. Ultimately, what matters to us is building into meaningful relationships in ways that, to the best of our ability and by God's grace, demonstrate the love and hope Jesus freely offers to us all. ************************************************ We bring both business and ministry backgrounds into our current work. John started a business in his 20's and helped build several other businesses. He has also served with churches in a variety of roles including as an assistant pastor, director of community development, and missions board member. Kaylee left her marketing career to become the global missions director for our home church in Austin, TX, then founded a local refugee ministry, and became TEFL certified (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) in order to prepare for our work overseas. We have led short-term teams domestically and internationally, and served with a variety of cross-cultural ministries. In 2008, we sensed a call to build into the church in Europe, which was also around the time when God broke Kaylee’s heart for refugees. Since then, God has continued to weave together this heart for refugees, desire to serve alongside the church, and focus on His call to Europe.

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