Due to a temporary lack of translation capacity  links remain in French

The oldest traces of solidarity-based associative action for the Exiles who were blockaded in Calais on the British border date back to 1986.  Some of these people find themselves on the street without any means of subsistence. Some of them are potentially refugees, refouled at the border of a state that is a signatory to the Geneva Convention.

For nearly thirty years, solidarity has been based mainly on Calais residents and associations anchored in the social fabric of Calais.

With a three-year bracket, between 1999 and 2002, during which the Sangatte Centre brought a state-funded response to meet some basic needs under the roof of a large hangar far from the town. Outside common law as well, it was a “humanitarian emergency shelter and reception center (CHAUH)”. The people housed were not refugees or asylum-seekers, or homeless people, but a sort of separate category under the “humanitarian emergency”.

The center closed, people then belonged to a category of people who do not have to be here, and numbers of people and associations showing solidarity varied more or less according to the period of the power relations the law or delinquency.

But, year after year, solidarity was organized, managed to conquer spaces to work, to obtain answers, fragmented, from the public authorities (the opening of a gymnasium in the framework of the cold weather plan, orientation towards the Exiles. The permanent access to health care at the Calais hospital, the provision of an open-air space for the distribution of meals, provision of prefabricated toilets for showers and day care …), without challenging the overall policy.

Beginning in the autumn of 2013, an increase in the number of Exiles that precedes what the media would later call in 2015 “the refugee crisis” began to become noticeable in Calais. In 2014, Emmaus France mobilized its communities to take over and organize convoys to Calais. It is still the local associations that distribute this aid which comes from all over France, at a time when local collections are no longer sufficient.

In the summer of 2015, international NGOs and volunteers and associations from all over Europe, notably the United Kingdom, arrived. Faced with what was to become the largest shantytown in France, local solidarity continues, but is marginalized in terms of its capacity to respond.


The state recreated what has sometimes been called “Sangatte on the cheap” There was an under-dimensioned day-care centre, a place for the reception of women and children, which was also insufficient, and almost a year later a container camp, for some of the people. The other people found themselves in a shantytown. By September 2016, ten thousand people lived on this site.

The dismantling of this site and the destruction of the shantytown reduced the number of Exiles in Calais blocked at the British border to an average equivalent to that of 2003 (after the closure of the Sangatte Centre) before the large increase elsewhere in Europe in 2013 ).

But the logistics of solidarity remain in the hands of actors disconnected from the local reality, the Calaisian solidarities no longer having the material means to work , even if only the capacity to prepare several hundred meals. Hence, among other things, the choice of a place for the distribution of meals in an industrial zone away from the city, which places tension in the community (see here, here, here and there).

Hence also the news of the day. The Secours Catholique reception will remain closed until the elections (without knowing which election it is, presidential or legislative, or the relationship between the political calendar and the needs and demands of the Exiles ). The showers managed by Secours Catholique are also closed: they take place in prefabricated buildings, which can be installed for three months without having a building permit , for lack of the permit, they stop, unconnected with the needs of the people).

There just remain the Calaisians who open their doors – and everything has to be rebuilt

Van Gogh : Wheatfield behind Saint-Pauls hospice with a cutter.

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