Each weekend, between 50 and 60 migrants in Calais take part in homestays with local residents through a program organized by an association called "Migr’action". More than 250 families have already signed up to host. This initiative was modeled after a similar network in Belgium.
Since the beginning of the year, private citizens have set up a network of homestays in Calais and the northern French town of Lille. Every Saturday and Sunday, they arrange for about 50 or 60 migrants to stay with local families.
“Our aim is to have them living in decent conditions, even if it is just for two days,” said Sophie Djigo, the founder of the "Migr’action" initiative, in an interview with InfoMigrants.
Homestays are only organized during the weekend for practical reasons. Most migrants make frequent attempts to reach England by hiding in trucks that transport goods across the channel. On Saturday and Sunday, there are no trucks, so migrants are more likely to leave their makeshift camps in Calais to sleep in a warm place for a few nights.
"[The weekend] is idle time for them […] and most of the hosts live a few kilometres from Calais,” Djigo says.
During the week, most migrants refuse to leave Calais because they want to try their luck at reaching England.
On Monday morning, volunteer drivers bring the migrants back to Calais.
"Migr’action" is based on an initiative in Brussels launched by the Plateforme citoyenne de soutien au réfugiés (In English: The Citizen Platform in support of refugees). Since last summer, the organization has worked to find housing for up to 250 migrants who would otherwise be sleeping rough in the Belgian capital.
"I went to meet them to see how their model worked,” Djigo says. “I brought the Belgian model to Calais.”
Each Saturday morning, volunteers pick up the migrant participants in Calais and drop them off at homes all across the region. On Monday morning, drivers drop them off again in Calais. Currently, there are more than 250 families who volunteer with the programme-- either acting as drivers or hosts.
Because there are a limited number of homestays available, the volunteers work with local associations to choose the participants by examining different criteria: priority is given to the youngest, the injured or the sick, the most tired or the people who have been in Calais the longest.
The aim is to help as many people as possible so new participants are chosen each week.
"As soon as guests arrive at a home, the hosts offer them a shower and the possibility to wash their clothes,” says Djigo, who also hosts migrants at her own home.
“The most important thing is for them to rest and to enjoy the calm and serenity of a home.”
On Sunday, volunteers organize activities for participants, including trips to restaurants, the movie theater and to see plays or shows.
"We help them to survive"
Volunteers say that they aren’t doing anything illegal.
“Everyone knows that migrants in Calais live in disastrous conditions,” Djigo says. “Their tents, clothes and blankets are constantly being destroyed by the police. With these emergency homestays, we try to compensate for the absence of the state with our own means. We are just helping them to endure, to survive.”
According to the law, helping undocumented people isn’t a crime when it means providing emergency shelter or assuring that the migrant “has decent living conditions”. It’s also perfectly legal to provide “any other aid meant to preserve the dignity or physical health of that person.”
Even so, some volunteers see participating in this initiative as a form of civil disobedience.
"It’s also a way to resist migration policies that run counter to international law, to the French
>> If you are in Calais and you want to participate in a homestay, then reach out to local associations.
>> If you want to volunteer or host guests at your own home, reach out to the people at "Migr'action" through their Facebook page.