Hot meals in Calais – worth the trip of 2,000 miles ?

“Shall we go to Calais, I gather they make great curry?”

According to the Mayor of Calais this is the starter question which will lead Eritreans, Kurds, Iraqi, Sudanese and others to leave their homeland and walk or smuggle themselves 2,000 miles to Calais. Fortunately when they get there Refugee Community Kitchen is there to satisfy their desires.

The Mayor has stated that this food should not be served – the implication being that it is drawing refugees from their home countries.

I suspect the Mayor is wrong. I suspect the bombing, civil war, invasion, land grabbing, famine, and horrific western interventions are more likely to be the reasons that migrants or refugees choose to leave their home, leave almost everything behind, and make their way across many nations to reach the safety of a hot meal in Calais.

I can’t do much about the arms sales, the terror or civil wars, but I can join loads of volunteers and chop hundreds of onions, make masses of healthy salad, clove a small mountain of garlic, and fill bento boxes with hot rice and curry for the young people homeless and hungry on the streets.

I don’t blame the mayor, or any of the French politicians personally – they are fighting elections and they want the “problem” to go away. They chose to destroy the relative safety and organisation of the refugee camp with the evictions at the end of last year. They announced to the world that the 6000+ (well more like 9000+) had been…well I’m not sure what…disappeared ??

I do blame the English/British government for failure to act sensibly, speedily, appropriately, humanely with the problem on their doorstep. I do blame all those who perpetuate the humanitarian crisis in the home countries of these people’s homelands. I do blame all the authorities for not permitting established human aid organisations like the Red Cross and others to create safe havens.

But blame takes energy which, for the moment, is best focussed on volunteering and shouting out for help.  Last weekend I joined the team for a couple of days, and saw the phenomenal work being done.

I call on my friends and colleagues, readers and followers, to be aware that the Refugee Community Kitchen is working as hard as ever to supply hot food to those who have nowhere to shelter or cook for themselves. They also run a series of free shops where those who have found shelter can cook for themselves.

The media circus may have left Calais, but the problem hasn’t left Northern France. The resulting added challenge is that the distribution of food is more scattered because, for the moment, the camp has gone. There is no easy welfare support. There are no places where young people can learn or play safely as they shelter around Calais. And there is the continuing threat of arrest for any young person found, well anywhere – especially trying to get a shower or be fed I gather.

Without the media circus, awareness of the ongoing humanitarian challenge has reduced. The number of volunteers and donations have reduced, because many think its all over. It is not all over.

There are still long-term volunteers, like my daughter Anna, working to make the most out of everything they can get into the prep-area of the kitchens. And there are amazing people fundraising around the UK to keep a flow of cash. There are wonderful local french farmers who make regular deliveries. And there are stores and wholesalers in the UK who make sudden unexpected deliveries. This week I saw two pallets of high quality tea, still packed in special gift and tourist packaging – with a small pot of jam and some shortbread. The tea is separated (especially every bit of green tea) and taken to the free shops.

So if you have Time, Talent, of Treasure – please help.

If you have time then volunteer for a few days, a weekend, and come to the warehouse in Calais (registering first) – you will be most welcome. It you don’t have time, then you may have some connections which could really help (your talent) – how about getting your tea packaging company to donate, or your local farmer to make a gift, or your local wholesaler to pass over rice or spices. RCK keeps a list of what’s needed at any time. Always good to check the Facebook page  and ask them what’s needed most.

And if you have no Time and no Talent you can instantly think of, then a donation will be Treasured – allowing RCK to make a quick run to a local hypermarket, or the Lille equivalent of Covent Garden Market, to buy the fresh produce that is needed when donations are not around.

Hundreds of people are being supported everyday, and the numbers are growing. Not because we feed them and so they travel thousands of miles, but because we bomb them or strip their land in some horrific way, and they have to leave to find a better life in the welcome of the West.

They aspire to join their brothers and sisters who live in the UK and have gained a welcome and real employment. They are nurses and computer specialists, and engineers and dentists. They may support our Western lifestyle as drivers and cleaners. They may stack shelves and clean streets. Or they may be the entrepreneurs and employers of the future. Until then we can, at the very least, offer them a great hot curry once a day.

Help if you can. Share if you will. And keep RCK in your thoughts, and the attention of politicians, governments, and media who CAN help, or make it a lot worse.

Thank you


  1. Brilliant blog. Totally agree Chris. Thank you.
    I was so inspired by your visit to Calais last year that I was going to come out and work in the kitchen.

    It is sometimes said that – ‘Life is what happens to us when we are making others plans’

    I am currently with/near a poorly Mary following an end of life scare just over a week ago.

    [CGO edit – removed more personal statements that followed for privacy sake]

    Sending love


  2. Shall we go to Calais, I gather they make great curry?”

    According to the Mayor of Calais this is the starter question which will lead Eritreans, Kurds, Iraqi, Sudanese and others to leave their homeland and walk or smuggle themselves 2,000 miles to Calais. Fortunately when they get there Refugee Community

    Chris, could you direct me to where the Mayor says that? I have read through the French press and cannot find a record of her saying that.

  3. This is inspired by the many articles reporting her statement about food distribution. I did not mean to suggest she was actually saying that she had heard a refugee saying “shall we go to Calais, I gather they make great curry?” My apologies if that was the impression I left you with.

  4. I see. By putting quotation marks around the words it very much appears that it is a direct quote and as such is misleading. Will you correct it?
    I have found a quote for you, it is Mme Bouchart and appeared in La Voix du nord (local paper) on 14/3/17. She explains what the plan is. Far from leaving migrants destitute, there is the possibility of them making an offical claim for asylum in France and receving housing, services etc. I’m assuming that as your organisation works in France you speak French? If not, let me know and I will translate for you.
    « Les migrants ont la possibilité de se doucher, d’être hébergés et nourris dans les centres d’accueil et d’orientation répartis sur le territoire national », souligne-t-elle. Natacha Bouchart ajoute que pour les mineurs (ils sont nombreux à Calais), les places d’accueil du foyer de Saint-Omer ont été accrues, ce qui permet leur « mise à l’abri systématique, d’autant plus qu’un système de transport de navettes et de taxis a été mis en place par France Terre d’asile, permettant ainsi une prise en charge à partir de Calais, à toute heure. »

  5. Thank you Carol – all information is helpful.
    I am just an English (non-french speaking) volunteer, going over when I can to help.
    As I understand it so many of the arrivals in the area are hoping to reach the UK to join others in their family, and to get jobs using their English. Many have no French and have no wish to settle in France, when their family members are in the UK. It is a very difficult situation for all. My friends in Calais continue to serve hot food on a daily basis.

    I am sorry for any confusion in my article – the opening line in quotes was my invented conversation starter 2,000 miles away in a war/famine torn country, and was never intended to be a line said or even thought by the Mayor of Calais.

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