“It’s really important we have warm clothes, sleeping bags, shelter and medicine for those that need it.”

This week the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlighted the challenges refugees in Europe will face with the arrival of the winter season and freezing temperatures.

With around 5,000 migrants living at the makeshift refugee camp in Calais, France the issue of how to keep its inhabitants sheltered, fed and clothed is a big worry and there is a huge reliance on donated items. Conditions in the camp are tough with its residents dubbing it “Jungle Camp” as they feel they are being treated like animals.

Sarah Gayton, a full-time volunteer at the camp, manages the logistical running of the warehouse where most of these donations arrive to be sorted.

She took the time to speak to the IPF about the conditions in the camp and what help and donations are needed in the coming months.

Please tell us a little bit about the work you are doing out there and what inspired you to volunteer at the camp warehouse?

I came out three weeks ago for a five day volunteering trip and can’t bring myself to leave. I first came out because I was in my house in London, decided to put the heating on and realised how lucky I was, and how many other people do not have that luxury—so I pulled some friends together and we created 500 food parcels in a week and headed over to Calais.

When I first got here I realised the scale of what was required and how the donations and warehouse could support the real needs of the people on a day-to-day basis and I am now here full time.

“It is my mission to ensure we have a clear overview of our stock levels and that the right stuff gets out to the right people who need it, and that stock is replenished so people in camp have food, warmth and shelter.”

How are the living conditions in the camp?

It really dirty and cold and people have to live in terrible conditions—sharing showers, toilets and getting water from the small number of water pipes available, some of which are infected with E coli. However, there is an amazing community spirit. There is lots of entrepreneurship and people are working together using their skills to improve the living conditions in the jungle.

Alex Beckett Photography (www.alexbeckett.co.uk)

A volunteer sorting donations at the warehouse in the “Jungle Camp”.

With winter coming what issues do you anticipate for those living in the camp?

Conditions in the camp will get very cold and wet. Blankets, sleeping bags, tarpaulins, warm clothes (small sizes only) and hot water bottles are key for keeping people warm and dry over the winter months.

“It’s important the donations keep coming, but they must be the right donations.”

How are interactions between refugees and volunteers?

The refugees really appreciate what we are doing to support them. When you go to the camp you are offered tea, food, a seat and a friendly hand shake. It’s an uplifting experience that people with so little to give, and who have been through so much, offer you what little they have.

Many nationalities live in camp and there are sometimes tensions between groups as it’s a small space with many people living so close to each other. However, I would say this is very minimal and to put it into perspective, if you put 6,000 English people together in a similar space and conditions I would expect a lot more tension than I see in camp.

Alex Beckett Photography (www.alexbeckett.co.uk)

Donations at the warehouse waiting to be sorted.

 How do you decide who gets what from the donated items and how do you get the items to Calais?

It works based on the needs of the camp. As the weather gets colder we need ensure people in need have shelter and warmth and we need to do this on mass, reaching as many people as possible. The warehouse is funded by L’ Auberge des Migrants from donations. Transport is limited so we try to use the volunteers’ vans and transport where possible to get as many distributions out to camp as needed.

How can our readers help and what advice do you have for people wanting to take donations to Calais?

If you are going to donate then please focus on blankets, sleeping bags, warm and small-sized clothes, underwear, trainers and walking boots size 40, 41, 42 and gloves, but what we really need is volunteers in the warehouse to support us in getting mass distributions ready to go out. You don’t need to bring donations, we just need your time.

If you would like to volunteer in the camp warehouse or make a donation please find details here.