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The jungle refugee camp' a reportage from Calais By Peter Blodau

Since volunteering at the refugee council in 2009 I have in one way or another been involved in refugee issues. As part of my work there we visited Calais where there were a number of refugees living in various squats and abandoned factory buildings in the town.

The situation in Calais came to my attention again in the summer of 2015 when all the refugees that had been living in various places around Calais were finally expelled to a former rubbish dump at the edge of town. With no shelter or any other means of protection the refugees set about trying to build their own shelters. The camp grew rapidly and when I visited in august 2015 there were already over 2000 people there. The refugees who were mostly from South Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan and more recently Syria, are all hoping to get into Britain for various reasons and to this end they make a nightly trek across Calais to try and access the Eurotunnel zone where trucks are loaded for the journey to Britain.

Many have been in Calais for months, and some for years living in a sort of legal grey area. With no access to any help from the French Government they are forced to help themselves. Some have managed to open food outlets for other refugees, or small shops providing basic provisions. Volunteer organizations that are very active on the ground supply the refugees with building materials, clothes and some basic foodstuffs.

I arrived with in august 2005 and after managing to find out where the camp was (its about an hours walk out of town) I made my way there following the tell tale trail for refugees walking in the direction of the camp. When I got there I was at first a little apprehensive about how to go about making contact but as soon as I got my pencil and paper out I was surrounded by friendly and curious faces (this is an experience I have in most countries) I quickly got to know a few Afghans who were all anxious for me to draw their portraits. After this initial start I felt able to walk around the camp and do some more portraits of some of the refugees. A few were a little reluctant to talk, but most of the people I contacted were very friendly and I was invited in for food on numerous occasions.

In October 2015 I made another trip. By then the camp had almost doubled in size and space was getting cramped, but worse still was the hygiene situation with totally inadequate toilets. Human excrement was visible in many areas of the camp and rubbish was everywhere. It was difficult to comprehend that I was in the middle of Europe! Everywhere people were queuing for food or clothes or trying to while away the time until they made their nightly trek to the Eurotunnel zone.

I spent about 6 days drawing portraits of individuals and groups sitting around their camp fires or whiling away their time in one of the cafes which have sprung up serving hot food to those who could afford it. Churches and Mosques have also appeared, and volunteers were busy setting up a makeshift school health center and library for the refugees. I spent my days walking around the different sections of the camp, which was divided up by nationality. The Sudanese the longest established group and it seemed the best organized, and the Syrians as newcomers making do in very flimsy tents. The days started late as many of the refugees are up most of the night attempting to access the Eurotunnel truck and train depot, but for most, this ends up in a sleepless night and a long trek back to the camp.

I also decided to do some larger images approximately 30 x 40 using pen and wash to try and capture the general environment of the camp using a limited palette of black, sepia, yellow and few color highlights.

I hope to return again soon to see the current situation,

Peter blodau February 2016

Peter Blodau draws in situ, working directly in front of his subject matter which gives it an immediacy, allowing him to capture the sounds, smell and the emotion of urban environments. His paintings are quiet studies of moments of light and contrast which convey the tonalities of the urban fabric as they constantly evolve though time and space. A fascination with both the ugliness and the beauty of the urban landscape are evident across all the media of his work.

About the artist: Born in Berlin, Peter Blodau was raised in Ireland by English-German parents, both of whom are also artists. Following his graduation in Fine Art Printmaking from Limerick school of Art in 1990, he returned to the cities of Berlin and Paris, the streets of which have become one of his primary subject matter. Always inspired by fresh experience, his studies span many international locations, for example Italy, Greece, London, Ireland, Cuba, and the United States. His most recent works were made in Naples.