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Welcome to the Jungle: Inside Europe's Worst Refugee Camp

12-17-2015
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CALAIS, France – Thousands of refugees risk their lives to escape war at home, hoping for relief in Western countries. Many find, however, that life in refugee camps is hardly better than what they left behind.

This is the case for the 6,000 refugees living in a French refugee camp known as "The Jungle," by far one of the worst in all of Europe. It's a place where sanitation and government help are almost nonexistent.

Kirstin Edinger is a humanitarian working for CBN partner Convoy of Hope Europe.

"The government hasn't been able to come up with a good policy in dealing with the camp and the numbers in the camp," she told CBN News.

'It's Suspended Agony'

Located in Calais, France, the jungle sits a mere 20 miles away from the United Kingdom, where many of the refugees living in the camp hope to resettle.

"People come here as a last resort. It's 20 miles from England, and most of the people who come here thought they'd be welcomed by England, but here they're stuck. It's suspended agony," Convoy of Hope CEO Michael McNamee said.

Convoy of Hope is on the ground working in the camp, planting churches and giving people necessities to try and help improve their conditions.

"The main problem these people have are social, physical, and spiritual, and thanks to the offerings of CBN we've been able to provide food, stoves, ponchos, tents, all sorts of stuff," McNamee said.

Since the summer, The Jungle has grown from 3,000 to 6,000 people, with around 150 arriving each day.

Church Planting

Convoy of Hope has been able to put the first evangelical church in the camp in the midst of 18 mosques and one Orthodox church. Their first service drew about 20 people, and now they have around 60 who attend on Saturdays.

But a church is not always welcome in a place like The Jungle.

In an attempt to stop people from defacing the church tent, Convoy of Hope has built sturdier shelters around it for Christian families to live in.  In addition to providing a place to stay, the shelters also offer protection for the church.

But even with the shelters, life there is anything but easy.

Sanitary Issues

Inside the camp it's extremely unsanitary and poses a large humanitarian risk. The French government installed porta-potties, but since they are not cleaned, they have become so foul they are almost unusable.

According to Edinger, the shower situation is not much better.

"Their showers are actually just hoses that are set up with a couple of different nozzles on them," she explained. "And then people just squat down, and it's in the wide open area, and people just squat down and wash themselves."

People are allowed one shower per week, but according to one Syrian refugee, the experience is far from cleansing.

"Sometimes you can stay for one or two hours and the shower is only going to be for five minutes, and sometimes you don't get your chance and you have to wait until the second or third day," one 26-year-old Syrian refugee said.

Syrians in the Jungle

Of the 6,000 refugees in The Jungle, only about 300 are Syrian, with others coming from North Africa and across the Middle East.

One English-speaking Syrian described the conditions he fled in his home country.

"The situation there becomes worse day after day because no one knows how it's going to end," the refugee said. "Because in Syria when you go out to your house to buy something you can't be sure if you're going to come back or not. Anything could happen at any moment. It's miserable there."

For these refugees, the Paris terror attacks served as a painful reminder of life in their home countries. Many people living in The Jungle lost friends and family to ISIS, and they want the world to know they are very sorry about what happened in Paris.

"We are sorry, very, very sorry about what happened in France and Europe. We are very sorry about that," said one Syrian refugee. "We didn't hear about it till the next day, and we were so shocked, and we are so sorry what happened, and we gathered the people and we hold candles for Paris victims."

The refugees understand that Western countries fear them but insist they are victims, not members, of ISIS.

"Terrorism doesn't have religion, doesn't have nationality. It's such a sick kind of thoughts these terrorists think," another Syrian refugee said. "It's not fair to say all these people are ISIS or they are terrorists."

Reaching Them with the Gospel

One British humanitarian living among those in The Jungle agrees most refugees are not threats, saying, "They're all running from ISIS or something like it. These people are not dangerous."

McNamee sais even if ISIS members are there, why not reach them with the Gospel message?

"If you were to ask me today if there were ISIS in this camp, I would not be surprised if there were – but they're in the minority," he told CBN News.

"And surely the Lord that we love, that rose from the dead, that loves everybody – He can also give us an opportunity to touch these people," McNamee continued.

"They're in the minority, and we must not look at these extremists and forget about 97 percent of people who are in genuine need," he said.

Convoy of Hope's church planting and aid services serve as a much-needed light in a very dark place.

"All over this camp, Muslims are hearing about the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time," McNamee said. "Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see, and thank you CBN for all that you've done here, and all that you're going to do."

No one knows how long France will allow this refugee camp to remain, but as winter approaches, Christians are being urged to keep the people of The Jungle in prayer as their conditions are only getting much worse.

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