By popular request, here’s a rag-bag of advice for people visiting Calais for the first time (Last updated on the 5th of July 2015):
Planning your visit:
- How to get to Calais: From the UK, the 90 minute ferry crossing is the obvious option. If you’re a foot passenger or with a bicycle, you can usually just turn up and buy a ticket for the next departure for less than £20. Ferries are very regular – when the workers aren’t striking!
If you have a vehicle, it’s better to book well in advance as ticket prices can rise sharply. A car can cost up to £100, but that covers as many passengers as you can cram in, so take your friends!
You can also take the Eurostar to Calais Frethun, but be aware that this is a good 13km (over 2 hour) walk from the camp.
- Take good walking boots, a car or a bicycle. The camp in Calais is a long (2 miles +) walk from the town centre and the nearest shops. A car or a van is particularly useful for transporting things / people to and fro. If you do take a vehicle, be prepared to help people! You will be in high demand.
- How to find somewhere to sleep: Talk to local activists or the migrants themselves about your sleeping options. I usually take a tent and camp. You could also try couchsurfing, sleep in your van if you take one, or stay at one of several hotels in Calais and the local area.
When in Calais:
- Be kind to each other. Be awesome and considerate to yourselves, your group, other activists, local Calaisians and the migrants. Everyone’s going through a lot.
- Always carry food and water. You don’t know when you’ll be eating, so take snacks. Otherwise you’ll get hungry, your blood sugar will fall and you’ll start getting annoyed and make bad decisions.
- Migrants don’t need charity. Support and solidarity, yes; charity, no. You’ll find that they are the hospitable ones. You are visiting their homes (however temporary and desolate), so respect their rules and their wishes.
- Be aware that the situation in Calais changes rapidly, often from one day to the next. Be flexible and…
- Follow the lead and advice of local activists. But don’t be afraid to speak up and use your initiative if you see something needs doing.
- Long-term activists in Calais may well be very tired. Don’t be put off if some people are quiet or unenthusiastic about your plans. You’re vital to inject some fresh enthusiasm.
- Don’t be ashamed or afraid to take an hour, an afternoon or a couple of days “off”. Be a tourist, have a coffee, have a nice meal, go for a swim in the sea. Look after yourself and each other.
- Don’t get involved with the police. They have a habit of smashing activist cameras.
- Be aware that the camps in Calais are heavily male-dominated. It can feel threatening; as usual, follow the lead of local activists if necessary.
- Be aware that the experience in Calais can be intense. Don’t mistake that intensity of experience with lust or love. But do make friends 😀
When you get back home:
- Be aware of your (and others) emotions. Some people can be profoundly affected by what they hear and see in Calais. When you get back, have a little meet up with the others, or stay in touch by email. And keep being nice to each other.
- Spread the news. Write something down, tell your family and friends, think about what you’ve seen and what it means. This is how things will change, through a slow process of bottom-up experience and understanding.
Finally: Have fun! I’m a big believer in fun. If something is not fun, then you won’t do it again and you certainly won’t encourage any one else to get involved. Yes, the situation is miserable, but that doesn’t mean that we always have to be miserable about the situation.
(If you’ve got anything to add, please leave a comment. Photo taken by Dominique Lyons – thanks!)