A Beckett grad travelled to Calais to photograph refugees

Jamie Sinclair spent a week in a French camp nicknamed ‘The Jungle’

beckett calais crisis france isis leeds refugees syria uni

Recent Beckett Photography graduate Jamie Sinclair headed out to Calais to explore the human side of the refugee crisis.

Jamie headed to a makeshift camp in the French port, nicknamed the “Jungle”, which an estimated 5,000 migrants fleeing from countries including Syria, Libya and Eritrea call home.

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We sat down with Jamie to speak about his experiences there, in the aftermath of the UK government’s decision to start bombing Syria. This is what he told us.

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I visited the Jungle in Calais mainly because I grew tired of hearing “They’re all Isis”, and the rest of the negative spiel on immigration and refugees. I had a week’s holiday from work and I felt the need to see it all for myself.

I ended up finding this guy, Tom, who was about to head over for a day to meet up with a member of the Doctors of the World Charity (who he’d donated £4000 too). He’d raised £8,000 when he’d only planned to raise £200. So I offered to document his trip, and away we went.

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We arrived late, and the member of the charity we were supposed to meet had left. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable just wandering in and shoving a camera in the faces of these vulnerable people, but when Tom asked what I wanted to do considering he had to head back over the channel I told him to just leave me here.

I decided I had to stay and do more than just take photos. I had to get to know these people – helping became more important than taking photographs.

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Anyway there I was, alone in the jungle feeling way out of my depth, when out of nowhere a childhood friend I’ve grown up with my whole life, Faye, appears out of nowhere, puts her hand on my shoulder and asks me what I’m doing here.

She took me to teach English to Sudanese men, in a tent she’d built a few days earlier: when she returned to see if anyone had made the tent a home the individuals based around the tent told her they had decided it was a school but they needed a teacher.

Their eagerness to learn was something else – we would teach them head, shoulders, knees and toes and when we told them it’s time to move onto the next topic they would all insist and chant that we continued head shoulders, knees and toes. For a bunch of 6ft-odd adults the enthusiasm was nothing short of inspirational.

calais.jpg#So that happened daily and once Faye had put me up in a tent I was pretty much swept off of my feet without a dull or resting moment.

You’d wake up, step out the tent and that was it – you help here with building a few tents, handing out blankets, supplying shoes then all of a sudden you help there shovelling shit to stop it from contaminating the water system or sorting the flood that is going to ruin homes. The list is endless.

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The best part of it all though is the culture and customs. You would help someone and then they would invite you into their home, whether it was a handbuilt shack or a tent or a marquee packed to the rafters with families. They insisted you should sit, and then they would insist you eat and they would insist you stay till you are honestly warm.

This happens every time you help someone. I’ve never actually been treated so well in my life – not a single passing face out of the thousands doesn’t smile, saying hello and asking how you are. I intended to visit for one day and ended up spending the week – I’d have stayed longer if it wasn’t for rent and bills to be paid.

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I don’t really like to talk politics or have an opinion on the whole thing. I prefer just to meet people, to see and experience things. Obviously it’s unrealistic to let everyone into the country but I do believe we could all do more considering our government spent 12 million on a fence.

Imagine if that was spent on actually handling the crisis rationally with a little compassion. I guess that is the only thing I can actually say on the matter and it applies to most situations – just try to think rationally about things. Jumping the gun and spitting venomous accusations never helps anything.

calaisPhotos by Jamie Sinclair Photography