REFUGEE WOMEN'S CENTRE
The Women's Centre creates a safe space to support displaced females psycho-socially and materially. We work in an all-female team of six to eight volunteers from a multitude of backgrounds, joined together to volunteer and live together from any time between 4 weeks to 2 years.
Together we fulfil the basic material and hygiene needs of displaced families through a mobile 'free shop'. We believe addressing the basic needs of those living in an irregular situation is essential to their psychological wellbeing. Our mobile centre operates six days a week across several locations, including outside spaces where the displaced population are sleeping rough, and temporary accommodation centres across Northern France. Through the means of our van, a sprinkling of creativity, and a handful of enthusiasm, we transform an area dedicated to empowering women, implementing free choice, and providing a platform for women to bond with their children.
We also bridge the gap between displaced people and professional organisations, connecting people to medical legal or psychological help when needed. Finding emergency shelter for those sleeping rough also forms an important part of our work. We coordinate with local organisations so that those displaced have a solid network of support and have their basic needs met. The Women's Centre is also dedicated to finding long term, sustainable responses to the refugee crises in Northern France.
Whilst we never encourage people to take life-risking decisions, such as crossing illegally to the UK, equally, we never force anyone into a situation against their will. We do not take part in smuggling, neither logistically nor financially, and if people ask us for our opinion, the stance of the Refugee Women’s Centre is that asking for asylum in France is a safer option. That being said, we oppose the violent methods used by French police, who often restrain or force people into being taken away to centres elsewhere in France to ask for asylum.
OUR CORE VALUES
We value the dignity of those we support by providing the means for improved living conditions, and a platform for self-agency and informed decisions.
The women and volunteers openly communicate, and are jointly involved in organising activities and operating the mobile centre.
We practice and encourage liberal and non-discriminatory generosity and kindness towards
To support the volatile and ever changing circumstances, we value curiosity as the essence of creativity and its dynamic role in adapting to and advancing a situation.
Whether this is through creating a safe space, facilitating independence or running skill building activities, female emancipation is at our core.
In the first camp of Grande Synthe, Basroch, women would rarely – if ever – leave their tents, because they were either felt uncomfortable with the conditions in the camp or were not allowed by their husbands to go to social spaces that weren’t female-only. This led to the creation and opening of a first Women’s Centre in two parts: one tent for the distribution of women’s clothes and hygiene products and another to serve as a social space where activities would be organised.
Based on this idea, a Women’s Centre was officially integrated in the planning of the Linière camp in the spring of 2016. The Women’s Centre was a community kitchen reserved for women, and their children if they wanted, in which volunteers would organise material distributions, activities, and generally provide a space in which women could spend time.The overall management of the camp was initially handed to Utopia 56, a French organisation that ran the day-to-day activities of the camp overall and ensured the presence of volunteers in different areas. This included the Women’s Centre. At the end of the summer 2016, the management of the camp was given to a different organisation called Afeji, who only did general management, but didn’t place their employees in specific sections of the camp.
This is when independent volunteers arrived, during the Autumn and Winter of 2016, to take care of the Women’s Centre, and to ensure the continuation of the activities and distributions that were taking place until then. Those volunteers redefined the workings of the centre, boosted the activities and interactions between the women living in the camp and the volunteers, developed its support network around Dunkirk and abroad, and officially created the Refugee Women’s Centre as an independent charity.
Since the fire that destroyed the camp, the Women’s Centre has gone mobile. Using a van, blankets and tarp to create temporary safe spaces, the team on the ground continues to provide close support to female refugees in Dunkirk, and during the summer started to do so in Calais as well. A temporary accommodation centre in the form of a gymnasium opened in Winter 2017 it provided shelter for 250 displaced people including around 30 women and their families. From there we continued to provide the same support. In the second half of the year we also started to support families in two other accommodation centres in the Northern France area.
In 2018 we continued to support families in the temporary shelter set up in Grande-Synthe, home to 250-500 refugees, including 30-50 families. We also visited four accommodation centres and supported a small number of women living homeless in Calais. Our community in Dunkirk was still mourning the loss of two year old Mawda; shot dead by Belgium police, when the temporary shelter was closed in Grande-Synthe at the end of May. During the summer, displaced people in Grande-Synthe camped in a forest area between a railway track and a motorway, known as the SNCF camp.
Alongside GSF, la planning familial and a UNHCR representative, we set up a successful women empowerment group in Calais to talk about sexual health, disperse legal information and cook together at the beginning of summer, that continues to this day.
At the end of August, the inter-association warehouse from which we operated burnt to the ground. Thanks to the incredible generosity from our supporters, we continued our services un-disrupted. Shortly after, the SNCF camp, home to 900-1000 displaced people was dismantled. During the Autumn we once again saw an unprecedented rise in new arrivals, with the informal camp swelling to an estimated 1700. People were living scattered, suffered from complete lack of basic provisions, and lived in fear of police violence, an incident gaining more frequency in the night time. After a number of re-homing operations by the state, the majority of the displaced population in Northern France are living in accommodation centres. We continue to support people in these centres and find shelter for new families arriving to Grande-Synthe.