Supporting Refugees in Calais

Posted on May 11, 2016

On Wednesday 13 April a team of us at Artsadmin travelled the 212 mile round trip to Calais, to volunteer at the L’Auberge des Migrants/Help Refugees centre. L'Auberge des Migrants is a French charity who have been active in Calais for a couple of decades and have welcomed and supported grassroots organisations working to support the refugee crisis. This huge, scruffy warehouse is a hub of activity, run by a dedicated team of volunteers organising and distributing food and clothing donations to camps in Calais and Dunkirk. Media coverage would have you believe that the Jungle (as the Calais camp is known) is no more, since the demolition of the southern part in March. On the contrary, there are 5188 refugees still living there, according to a census published this week by Help Refugees and many more in Dunkirk, not to mention thousands stranded in Greece, Serbia and Turkey.  L’Auberge des Migrants is one part of the incredible grassroots movement that has sprung up to address the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time, collectively providing aid, medical and psychological support to vulnerable, displaced people, as well as a theatre, library, and women and children’s centre over the 6 or more years of the Jungle's existence. Men, women and children arrive every day fleeing war and persecution, in desperate need of food, shelter, clean water, medical attention, clean and warm clothing. Tragically, the crisis isn’t going away anytime soon.

In the face of so much conflicting information, many are at a loss to know what to do to help. Raising funds, giving donations and volunteering are all desperately needed now the world’s attention is shifting somewhat from the refugees’ plight in Calais. Our day of volunteering was one spoke in a huge wheel but demonstrated how with a little organisation and good will, it’s possible to make an impact from home and on the front line.  If you can spare some time and want to get involved, then heading over to volunteer in Calais or Dunkirk is a great way to make a difference. The situation changes daily and it can be hard to know where to start, so we thought it would be helpful to offer 10 tips to making your help count…

1. Go for the right reasons

To give hands on support and be part of the huge, growing network that supports the refugees stranded in Europe. This is about pitching in rather than looking or taking pictures.  

 2. Offer your skills

General volunteering – cleaning the camp, sorting donations at the warehouse and working in the kitchens are all desperately needed at the moment. However, the camps are also looking for teachers and medical professionals, keep an eye on Calaidipedia for up to date volunteer info.

3. Volunteer through an organisation 

Going through grassroots orgs such as Help Refugees, Calaid, Calais Kitchens or Care4Calais means volunteers can be placed where they’re most needed, and working as part of a team is also highly rewarding. There are volunteer registration forms online – Let the organisation know when you’re coming, how long for and what donations you’re bringing.

4. Get your organisation involved
Ask your organisation to gift a day and/or transport to send a group of you over to volunteer. It’s a great way to meet social responsibility and an opportunity for staff to spend time away from the office helping others. There are other ways organisations can help – by becoming a Theatre of Sanctuary, donating goods via Leisurefayre, getting involved in Refugee Week (21-23 June) and setting up fundraising events to raise money for organisations such as Help Refugees, Doctors without Borders and Médecins Sans Frontières.

5. Get others on board 

Set up a collection point for donations and invite people to get involved on social media. Travel over in a group if you can – it helps keep costs down and productivity up.  Don’t go in an empty car- fill it with donations or extra volunteers. You can join a car share Facebook group to find people willing to jump in and share the cost.

6. Take donations that are needed and sorted 

 Sadly not all donations are good donations and unsuitable food and clothing have to be sifted out using up precious volunteer time. An up to date list of current needs is produced weekly.  Check this before you go and put aside anything not required for charity shops, homeless centres or food banks. We cannot stress enough how useful it is to have donations pre-sorted into same item bags, putting a clear label on the outside to state the type of garment, size and quantity. Little gestures like this from individuals is a massive help in easing the task of sorting through the mountain of donations.

7. 2 days are better than one  

If you can stretch your stay to a couple of days or more, then brilliant! This is extra useful as it means time and effort can be directed into helping the refugees rather than training new volunteers. For places to stay, you can check out budget hotels in Calais. Most volunteers stay at the Le Centre Européen de Séjour Youth Hostel where a discounted rate is available for 3 or more nights. There is also Air B and B, and the possibility of caravan camping for long term stays. 

8. Be prepared, positive and flexible  

You could end up doing any number of tasks in Calais and being flexible is really helpful to organisations allocating volunteers. It’s advisable to bring supplies for all eventualities, including warm layers, gloves, sun cream, waterproofs, comfy shoes/wellies, a flask of tea/ coffee, water and snacks. Volunteering is hard but rewarding work - communal lunches after a busy morning are bonding occasions, and sharing chai tea with refugees from all over the world is an amazing and humbling experience. There are over 20 nationalities in the camp, and a unique, positive community spirit – by being there and doing your bit you are welcomed in.

9. Help from home

If you can’t spare time to go to Calais or Dunkirk, then don’t worry - there are multiple ways you can help from home. Joining local support groups and collecting donations is invaluable, more information on this can be found here. Campaigning for the rights of the refugees and those trapped in conflict zones like Syria is also fundamental to the cause, for example, signing petitions and raising awareness about the plight of the unaccompanied children to enter the UK. This really does make a difference as the recent Dubs Amendment has proved. Furthermore, we can all do our bit to welcome refugees arriving in the UK and provide support where needed, the Refugees Welcome campaign is useful for information on this.

10. Spread the word

Share posts on online media, sign petitions, lobby your MPs and encourage people to get involved in this cause. The incredible generosity, collective spirit and power of the public is overwhelming in the face of adversity and everyone doing something WILL make a difference.


Useful Links


The overall Calais situation:

Recent Data Reports on the refugees in Calais:
May 16 -
Feb 16 -

Current Needs

Haiku Deck Calais current needs -…

Help Refugees Items Needed-…/urgent-items-needed-in-ca…/

Basic Needs Survival List -

Who do I contact for volunteering or make a donation?

Contact an association / a group:

Organise a convoy:

Organise a distribution:
(If you are not going through an association or group - this is not recommended for inexperienced aid / Calais volunteer)



More tips for your trip

Facebook Groups:

Calais: People to People Solidarity – Action from UK

Calais Action:

Artists in Action:


For Organisations

Becoming a Theatre of Sanctuary:

Donating through LeisureFayre:

Set up a fundraising event:

Upcoming events:

Calais Clean up Days – 28 May, 5 June -

Artsadmin – film screening of ‘In this World’ by Michael Winterbottom – 21 June

Refugee Week 20-26 June -

Migrant Museum, Shoreditch - Call me by my name: Stories from Calais and beyond 2 – 22 June

Workshops on how to help the refugee crisis: Refugee Response Training: London, UK in May and June.

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