Working from sunset to sundown, a British Muslim couple from County Durham has been offering free meals to 1,500 people in the Calais jungle camp every day all over the past year.
(AhlulBayt News Agency) - Working from sunset to sundown, a British Muslim couple from County Durham has been offering free meals to 1,500 people in the Calais jungle camp every day all over the past year.
The story started when Jamal Ismail and Sofinee Harun took their family caravan to Calais jungle last September, saying they were planning to stay for one week.
“We just couldn’t go home. We know that so many people have arrived [in the refugee camp]. There are women and children, there are families, there are people whose kids are hungry,” Harun told The Independent.
“They depend on you. To think that they’re not going to have a meal if you don’t cook is awful.”
Working from sunset to sundown all-year-round, they say “we never close”.
They and the kitchen volunteers allow a maximum of 10 seconds to serve each person in a queue that extends into the distance. It means no one has to wait, getting hungry, for too long.
Now, whenever Harun visits the UK, she can’t sleep.
“My mind is still back in the Jungle,” she told The Independent.
The Calais “Jungle” is the nickname given to a refugee and migrant encampment in the vicinity of Calais, France, where migrants and refugees live.
Many living in this camp attempt to illegally enter the United Kingdom via the Port of Calais or the Eurotunnel by stowing away on lorries, ferries, cars, or trains traveling to the UK.
The camp gained global attention during the European refugee and migrant crisis when the population of the camp grew and French authorities carried out evictions.
Recently, pressure has increased hugely on the camp, where the number of refugees is expected to exceed 10,000 in the next few weeks, according to police.
As donations wane, the Calais charity Help Refugees found that almost 900 children were staying in the Jungle. Almost 80 per cent of those children are alone.
Visiting the camp for the first time, the Muslim couple, originally from Malaysia, were appalled by the conditions they found in the camp when they first arrived.
“Almost everybody was in summer tents,” Harun said.
“It was raining and flooding. And when it rained they couldn’t cook because they had to cook with firewood.
“The way people live [in the camp], without electricity, without proper water… to see something like that in Europe is shocking.
“In Malaysia in the 1970s, when I was small there were maybe some remote villages like that.
“That was some 30 years back – and that wasn’t a developed country.”
After the first visit, Ismail, an engineer, installed gas stoves so the refugees could have hot food.
“If you go camping for a week, having a cold meal is fine,” said his wife, Harun, “but when you stay for a long time it’s just depressing.
“Being a foreigner in a foreign country, I know how important food is.”
The cooking in the camp, with a Malaysian influence, was familiar to many refugees who come from Eritrea, Pakistan, Syria, and Iran.
“In Malaysia, we have a very mixed culture. We have Malay people and we have people from Indian and Chinese backgrounds, the food is always very mixed,” she said.
“Given, what these people have been through, having something familiar is good.”