IslingtonTribune

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On Our Doorstep: inside stories of the Calais ‘jungle’

Emotional documentary follows the work of volunteers who stepped in to offer aid as a humanitarian disaster unfolded

11 February, 2021 — By Dan Carrier

Close to home – On Our Doorstep. Photo: Thomas Laurance

ON OUR DOORSTEP
Directed by Thomas Laurance
Certificate: 12a
☆☆☆☆

IT is, as one volunteer says, just a three-hour drive from London: and that such a humanitarian disaster should be unfolding on our doorsteps should, as this documentary makes clear, fill us all with both a sense of shame and the motivation to try do something about it.

Director Thomas Laurance travelled to Calais to meet refugees from around the world caught in a horrible no-man’s-land, and having to make their homes in makeshift camps as they looked to find a way to the UK.

The Jungle, as the camps became known, hit the headlines in 2015, when the film begins – and Laurance follows the work of volunteers who stepped in to offer aid when NGOs faced bureaucratic obstacles and governments were reluctant.

We witness how a grassroots, word-of-mouth movement sprang up to tackle a humanitarian emergency – and how instead of recognising the urgency and need, French and British authorities colluded to make life as difficult as possible for people who had fled their war-torn homes.

The admirable work of young and inexperienced volunteers, working alongside some more seasoned aid givers, is the focus of the film – and raises questions about what form such help should take.

We are given a ringside seat to hear the stories of the likes of Liz Clegg, who built a centre for women and children in the camp, and a counsellor, Ellie Kavner, who did all she could to offer help to both refugees who had travelled thousands of miles in awful conditions and the volunteers who wanted to help but were faced with an enormous task for which many felt unprepared for.

The emotional drama of facing a crisis of this scale – at one point there were 10,000 people living outside in horrendous conditions, with no recourse to help and with uncertainty about the next day will bring – is writ large through the interviews with those involved.

Director Laurance had gone to the Jungle as a volunteer but what he saw prompted him to chronicle the story. He spent a year in the camp and the result is a heartbreaking story of individual suffering, but also a story that damns the response by those with the power to alleviate others’ life-threatening trials and tribulations but singularly fail to do the right thing.

This happened just over 100 miles from where you are reading this review – it was on our doorstep, and it makes the situation that bit more shameful.

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