University of East London brings Life Stories course to Calais Jungle
First UK higher education institution to offer accredited course in Calais camp
A University of East London (UEL) professor has pioneered a new project bringing the experience of British higher education to the heart of the Calais ‘Jungle’ camp in France.
During the first weekend of December, camp residents began studying for an accredited course on ‘Life Stories’ taught by a small team of academics in the camp, led by Professor Corinne Squire from UEL’s School of Social Sciences.
Professor Squire was joined by Dr Tahir Zaman, of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), who is a visiting fellow at UEL's Centre for Migration, Refugees and Belonging, University of Copenhagen student Katrine Moeller Hansen, interning at UEL’s Centre for Narrative Research, and Natalie Ludvigsen, a Danish Erasmus student in the School of Social Sciences.
Professor Squire said that the lack of food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, and health care in the Jungle made the residents’ hard lives there a human rights issue. “Education is also a human right”, she added.
“Many of the people in the camp are highly educated and keen to continue their education,” explained Professor Squire. “They are in a difficult position, stuck outside a small town they do not want to be in, that does not want them.”
The first students to take part in the course, which included academic reading skills, writing, art, poetry and photography, were a group of men aged 18-35 who signed up for the course when Professor Squire visited the camp last month and held a seminar on Nelson Mandela’s Long walk to freedom. She said these were the people most often demonised in the media.
“In fact, these men are students and professionals desperate to make something of their lives, and they have many educational and personal resources which will help them do that,” said Professor Squire.
The students included a college lecturer from Ethiopia, an optician from Syria, whose work helping people on different sides of the conflict led to threats against him, English literature and electrical engineering graduates from Sudan and a veterinary science student from Eritrea. Other students came from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran.
Supported by UEL’s Civic Engagement fund, the university team, along with writers, artists, and colleagues from other universities, will run further ‘Life Stories’ courses during the first half of 2016, under the heading, ‘University for All.’ In a development for the project, teaching sessions and workshops will be co-organised with interested camp residents.
Because settlements such as the Calais ‘Jungle’ are not recognised as official refugee camps, they do not receive the educational support that is available in official camps. However, a large number of small volunteer initiatives have arisen, including some started by camp residents themselves.
Volunteer groups working with UEL include the language school, L'École Laïque du Chemin des Dunes, Jungle Books Library, the arts and music Good Chance Centre.
Camp residents have set-up two schools, Alpha’s ’École des Arts et Métiers, and Zimako’s school, and the Facebook profile Refugee Voices.
Asked about the benefit of the project to camp residents, Professor Squire said, “Many residents told us that they want to record and reflect on what has happened to them. They want their difficult experiences and journeys to gain a wider hearing.”
“Camp residents do not just want to survive. In the Jungle, that is difficult enough. But like anyone else, they also want to live creative and productive lives.”