As we move into June this week, we have had some of the worst weather that we can remember. It has been almost constant rain across Northern France. There are local floods and the camp itself is one vast puddle. The poor weather has impacted on attendance this week, as parents do not like letting their children out in the rain when they have no way of drying clothes.
An increasing problem over recent weeks has been the activities of the criminals in the camp. Although we have no direct contact with them, or direct knowledge of their actions, the rumours amongst the children are of ever more brazen intimidation and threats to their parents. They allegedly continue to tout for business and apparently threaten any of the camp inhabitants who try to find some way of getting themselves out of the camp which does not involve a payment to the gangs. Understandably many of the children are worried by it. The attention of the gangs is mainly focused on the adults, but older children do not escape their interest. The gangs try to enlist them in their illegal enterprises on the basis that if they get caught, children will be treated more leniently by the authorities than gang members would be treated. This kind of pressure on adults and children is having a significant impact upon the morale of inhabitants. We have also seen increasing numbers stepping up their attempts to escape the camp, claiming that the dangers posed by trying to jump on moving lorries is preferable to the dangers posed by living with gang members threatening them each day.
We welcomed Gillian Hargreaves and a BBC film crew as visitors this week. They were particularly interested in the turn-over of students and the ‘missing’ children that they had heard about. We see a significant number of children disappearing each month. We don’t know if this is ‘sinister’ or whether the children have gone somewhere safely. We just have no information at all. It does worry us that no one seems particularly interested in who the missing children are and whether anything needs doing to ensure their safety. All we can do is hope that they have all arrived somewhere, safely. But as teachers, it is very disconcerting to not follow up on children's whereabouts.
This week there was also a meeting with local French school staff so that we could discuss how to extend further the educational provision for the refugee children. We are keen to see a more permanent and state-sponsored solution to educating the children in the camp, as we have always believed that the purpose of education in the camp is to prepare students to re-enter mainstream education. We are therefore keen to explore long term educational options and short term opportunities for transition projects. We end the week with a lot of ideas on the table and hopefully they will begin to crystalize into definite plans over the next few weeks.