Feeding Refugees in 'the Jungle' Refugee Camp (Calais, France)



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In 2015, there was a high level of media coverage about the unfolding refugee crisis as more than a million refugees entered Europe.

The BBC reported that the conflict in Syria continued to be by far the biggest driver, with the ongoing violence in Afghanistan and Iraq, abuses in Eritrea, as well as poverty in Kosovo being cited as push factors. There were also economic migrants. It sparked a wider political crisis as countries struggled to cope with the influx, creating division in the EU over how best to deal with resettling people.

Significant numbers of refugees trying to reach the UK gathered on the French coast, near Calais. They set up an unofficial refugee camp on a squalid 1.5 square miles of scrubland; they dubbed it ‘the Jungle’.

Watching on TV, Leon wondered how he could assist. He received a call from a friend thinking of setting up a canteen to feed the community. A fortnight later Leon was in France, ready to help!

The camp was growing with two hundred people arriving daily. It grew from 1,500 people in the summer to as many as 10,000 by autumn. Leon decided that everyone in the camp needed to be fed.

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Initially, the volunteer-run kitchens received their food supply via unstructured donations. However, as the need grew to the equivalent of a small town, they moved to regular contracts with larger food suppliers, with an increasing reliance on cash, rather than food donations.

Calais Kitchens was one of several kitchen operations serving the camp, and learnt on their feet efficient procurement and distribution. It was based alongside Refugee Community Kitchens (RCK) in a warehouse run by the French charity L’Auberge des Migrants.

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Leon founded Calais Kitchens and, within two months, he and others were feeding all the refugees within the camp, 10,000 people. Leon stayed there until April 2016, providing emergency relief. He then handed the reins over to other trusted colleagues. The camp was demolished by French police later in 2016. 


[WATCH Leon's interview] Inside the refugee camp "the jungle" in Calais, France - Leon Aarts (credit: Lilou Mace on YouTube):

Leon says: “Sharing a meal with others has the potential to create greater understanding and take down barriers. I learnt this in “the Jungle”. It was amazing how people here, who had absolutely nothing, didn’t know what their uncertain futures held, were willing to share their food with us…what they really wanted was to chat across a table, they wanted to feel human.”




CURIOUS about Leon's story? Read My Life in Food HERE.