Two months in Calais as Human Rights Observer

BySara Paolazzo

Two months in Calais as Human Rights Observer

I decided to participate to the Erasmus for Social Innovation program because it was a perfect opportunity to live an experience in a field which I am really interested in. For long time I have had the desire to go to Calais, a town situated in the North of France, sadly popular for the desperate situation of the refugees present in the area. Since I have always been very engaged in the field of the migrants’ rights, I wanted to experience first-hand the special situation existing on the French-British border.

Thanks to the Erasmus program I had the chance of spending two months working for the project HRO, Human Rights Observation, at the association L’Auberge des Migrants. Beyond the dramatic and terrible context of the refugees’ camps, it was possible for me to find a solidary and supportive humanity among the hundreds of people co-operating for changing the actual situation of Calais. In this part of France, in fact, hundreds of refugees coming from the Sub-Saharan Africa and from the Middle East stop temporary in order to try to cross illegally the Channel to get to the UK and join their familiars, in most of the cases. These people live in tents in outdoor camps, despite the very cold weather of North France, and are subjected to daily evictions by the order forces. I took part of a team, the HRO team, working on the field and observing the eviction operations, in order to avoid or to document violations of human rights.

We collected data, pictures and videos which we used to write reports about the situation of the refugees living in the area. Moreover, I collected testimonies and interviews from the people living in the camps and I used them to write articles and contents for the social media. I also helped in collecting donations and in preparing and distributing essential goods and food.

Thanks to different trainings offered by the organization, I could improve my knowledge about the political situation of this European area, about the rights of the refugees and about the European system and laws for the migrants coming to the continent. All these trainings and the work on the field made me understand much more about some political decisions of the European Union and made me take conscience of some limits and gaps of the system which we have to try to improve as European citizens. Experiencing first-hand such undignified and dramatic conditions in which people are living in Europe made me appreciate more my rights and my freedom and increased my will of being engaged for improving other people’s lives. This traineeship also was incredibly useful to develop some competences which I will need for my future professional life, such as the teamwork, the flexibility, the decision making and the management of stressful situations. I also had the possibility to improve my English and French language skills and to develop all my communication competences, being every day in contact with people coming from all over the world. What I learnt at most is, though, the capability of working in a very intercultural environment and of managing all the possible obstacles arising from deep cultural differences.

These two months of Erasmus traineeship in Calais opened my mind and, especially, opened my heart, leaving an indelible mark on my wealth of experience and offering me the view of a beautiful and colourful humanity.

Francesca Emmulo, student at Università degli Studi di Venezia Ca’ Foscari.

About the author

Sara Paolazzo editor