Jungle Books narrowly avoids 'going up in flames' in Calais

Jungle Books narrowly avoids 'going up in flames' in Calais

Charity and refugee library Jungle Books narrowly avoided “going up in flames” on Wednesday night, following the eviction of hundreds of migrants from the area.

Five acres of the Calais camp, known as The Jungle, were destroyed last week - the outcome of a failed appeal that will see half the camp demolished in the next month.

Mary Jones, a British teacher who set up Jungle Books last year, said she wouldn’t be moving until the clearing had finished to show “solidarity”; and to help ressurect a firebreak (a gap in combustible material that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of a fire) to prevent the library, full of donations from the book trade, from catching alight. 

Jones told The Bookseller: “Last night (Tuesday) I was there trying to stop it all going up in flames. What’s happened is they’ve cleared a lot of it, and the huts that are left, some of the migrants are thinking its fun to set them on fire. And there was such strong wind on Tuesday night…I really thought the whole lot was going to go up in flames.

“Luckily, and for the church, everyone came round and made a bit of a firebreak. So it didn’t. I thought it’d gone ...but it’s still there."

While the library is “safe for now”, Jones said she would only stay for as long as the library was still “in use”, as stipulated by the French courts for such centres, and added that she was considering setting up “similar spaces” with the same “spirit of Jungle Books” elsewhere. The containers and Dunkirk are both options, “so that refugees can still have a nice space to meet, chat and read…”

"It will be a case of giving [the refugees] the books, giving them the space, whatever they need, and hopefully the same thing will happen," she said. "And people wil take over the running of it themselves." 

She said: “For now we’re like a little island, as everything has been cleared around it. We’re still vaguely using it - last night we had the generator going, the wifi on - but everybody has moved away. People are setting fire to everything, like the Women and Children’s centre… Jungle Books is, luckily, along with the church, one of the few community centres people are protecting. So we’re still there, but I think we’ll have to move.”

Shipment containers were provided by the French government to be turned into housing units, but require hand prints to gain entry – a deterrent to many migrants with hopes of reaching the UK for fear the security measures will restrict movement.

The £2.5m new camp opened in Dunkirk was set up and two-thirds funded by French charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), intended as an alternative to an illegal and unsanitary camp less than a mile away in Grande Synthe, but has also been attracting dispersed migrants from Calais. It will eventually accommodate 2,500 migrants in the wooden cabins being built, and is the only camp of its kind in France to meet international humanitarian standards.