“The café was opened in response to the demolition of the southern half of the camp, and it has completely changed the lives of many young people who go there.”
The existence of the Kids Cafe, a safe welcoming space for unaccompanied minors in the Calais Jungle refugee camp in France, is at risk of demolition, throwing the future of the children in the refugee camp into uncertainty and doubt.
On Friday, 12 August, a judge will decide whether to demolish the café, which is part of Jungle Books’ not-for-profit organisation. Tens of thousands of people have signed a Change.org petition to save the cafe at risk of demolition in the Calais refugee camp, seeking to preserve a charitable endeavour that has so far provided 200 meals a day, English and French classes, and even asylum advice.
Hari Reed, a 23-year-old from south London, started the petition and is one of the volunteers who has provided these children with more than just hope. Hari told the IPF:
“Since the restaurant opened, the children have both opened up and become calmer. The sense of routine, the comfort and the practical help it provides reduces some of the stress of having to queue for food, find somewhere to charge a phone or a place to go in the evening.”
Hari has also watched students become more confident in speaking English. She said: “The café was opened in response to the demolition of the southern half of the camp, and it has completely changed the lives of many young people who go there.”
Like the other volunteers, Hari is aware of the grave risk posed to the children if the demolition of the café goes ahead. She explained: “Firstly, they would lose the stability, security and sense of community that the café provides. If the café closes, it would take far longer to realise if an unaccompanied minor goes missing.”
Hari also noted that if the café closes, children would have to stand in long queues for food, and this food would not include meat as the Kids Café meals used to. She added:
“They would lose out on their regular classes and activities and the structure this brings to their daily lives.”
The café was originally set up to provide help to the most vulnerable- but that hasn’t softened the stance of the French authorities, who mistook the charitable endeavours of the café as simply just another cynical business scheme. Hari said:
“Refugees who volunteer in the café were arrested and taken into the police station just as the other business owners were.”
According to Hari, the Kids Café has been treated by authorities as if it was a business. She said: “This is partly why the petition was started – to emphasise the fact that it is a volunteer-run not for profit project providing an essential service for kids in The Jungle.”
Friday is judgement day for this commendable humanitarian endeavour; Hari is both hopeful and realistic about the outcome. People are gathering outside the French Embassy in London on Friday. If the judge decides that the restaurants will be closed, the structures must be dismantled by their owners within 48 hours of the decision.
“If they are not gone after 48 hours, the police will do it. I assume the Kids Cafe would be subject to the same rules as everything else, although I hope with my heart and soul that it doesn’t come to that.”
UPDATE [12 August 2016]: The Kids Cafe was saved from demolition after a French court rejected the bid to tear it down.