South London Photographer: Dunkirk

Yesterday at 6am I set off with Wandsworth based organisation Just Shelter heading for Dunkirk to deliver donations to families living in and around the area. Since the demolition of the Calais camp (the Jungle) last year and the burning of the official Dunkirk camp, there is nowhere for people to be. People are still arriving nevertheless, or being ejected from one country and sent back to another only to be rejected by them too. So, as predicted by charities and media, there are now smaller unofficial camps springing up and life is unimaginably hard for anyone living there. Just Shelter have published a moving and informative account of our time in Dunkirk, which describes very well some of the challenges people face as well as the woefully inadequate provision just about being allowed in.

Here are a selection of images from yesterday. As always I have avoided revealing any individual identities due to potential risks to people escaping terror.

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When we arrive a midday meal has been delivered and people are queuing. This process is often disrupted by police and for a long while until recently could only be done illicitly.
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This is the only way to wash and this contraption has just recently arrived.  Four to 6 people can fit at a time, although there are an estimated 600 people staying here. Sixteen hundred people are believed to be living this way in the Dunkirk area.
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We spoke to a number people who had just arrived here with absolutely nothing to their names. Sleeping bags and blankets are handed out by Care4Calais wherever possible, but there are nowhere near enough tents for everyone, so many people must sleep with no cover at all.
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I took this photograph in a wood where a small group of families were sheltering.
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There is nothing to do here but sit and wait
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The surreal manicured motorway landscape is changed by the people who find themselves trapped here.

After we had been in the camp for a couple of hours we went to the nearby supermarket with two truly amazing young women, who have been supporting people. There we bought some additional provisions with money donated by residents of Wandsworth.

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These women are extremely generous with their time, guiding and supporting us. Read more in the Just Shelter blog.
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Just Shelter volunteers making sure the people we had spoken to in the camp receive what they have asked for.
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Just Shelter funds are used to buy small parcels of treats for children living in the camp.

 

After our visit to the supermarket we return to the camp and hand out parcels as well provide activities for the children.

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There are several families struggling to exist in the area we visit.
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Blankets are laid out above a stream to collect and filter water.
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A man I met wanted me to see where and how he lives. As we walk to his tent he talks of beheadings, his own injuries and lost family members.
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In this section of the woods I am told about police brutality, suspicion of corruption between various authorities, heavy-handed threats from smugglers and again, the loss of family members. Most of the time I get on with my job, but it is more difficult when someone describes how they lost their daughter in a bomb blast, and how he, his wife and their two surviving children nearly suffocated in a lorry.
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Staying connected is critical. So many people I spoke to asked me if I have a charger. There were electric points availabe in the camp that burnt down but here it is only available sometimes and not everyone is able to make use of the generators that arrive.
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At certain times in the day someone (not official) brings electricity. This image was taken on my previous visit.
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I spend time talking to various people and am reminded of the links people have. These mementoes are significant to the person wearing them as they are gifts from family he has left behind.
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Not everyone has tents but those who do are grateful. It rained heavily the night before we visited.
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I am careful to avoid identities.
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Camp fires burn all day keeping people warm and will certainly be needed by evening time. On the day we are visiting, despite being August, we feel the chill later when we wait for our ferry.
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By the time we leave a second meal has been delivered. I am always overawed by the charity that provide these meals. It is run entirely by volunteers and one of the most positive aspects of this ongoing situation.
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As we drive to get our ferry back to the UK I think about all the people we have spoken to during the day. Many, many talked of police dogs attacking them, one man showed me a video of himself being held in a van as he watched the ferry leave Calais port. Another man told me how he was restrained with four belt-like contraptions in the UK and shows me the marks left on his body. His companion tells me how he was hit in the eye by UK border police. Some people have broken limbs and there are sick children. And without fail, each person I spoke to told me about the loss of family members, or their homes, and their desperate desire to live in safety. Every time I drive past this extraordinarily expensive fence near Calais, I think about how the money could have been spent helping people fleeing wars and climate change instead of turning this part of Northern France into a strange prison landscape.

 

All images (c)Sarah-Jane Field 2017

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Sarah Furniss

Family and corporate, portrait and event photographer working in London and surrounding area.