The Refugee Info Bus was founded in March 2016 by a group of friends who had been volunteering in the Calais ‘Jungle’ for several months.
For context, Calais is a port town in Northern France where refugees try to make it to the UK. It is wet and fairly mild in summer but brutally cold and unforgiving in the winter months. De-industrialisation means that the region has had a disproportionately high unemployment rate, which helps fuel anti-immigrant sentiment. Police and CRS violence is rife, and displaced people have tents and belongings confiscated daily.
Within a year, we facilitated over 10,000 Wi-Fi logins and delivered more than 1,000 workshops to 3,000+ individuals on the UK and French asylum systems as well as ‘’know your rights’’ workshops, following and during evictions.
In March 2017, we expanded our operations to Greece. By providing multilingual legal information, we helped refugees navigate the complex and ever changing asylum process at what is one of Europe’s major points of entry. Operating in camps across the mainland and islands, we conducted this work using handouts, and audio and video materials. Our team of legal case-workers were refugees themselves and had personal experience of the asylum process in Greece. In October 2017, in response to the enormity of the situation, we launched our information video series and Facebook messaging service. With the help of Facebook, we are able now to assist considerably more people than just those who we encountered via our mobile van. From 2018-2019,we created 40 videos that have been viewed 750k times in total, each video receives on average around 20 private messages, or requests for further info or assistance.
In April 2017 we returned to Calais. Though the ‘Jungle’ camp was destroyed, refugees continued to arrive in the town. No centralized camp has been established, with roughly five informal living settlements forming around Calais, with one larger informal settlement in Grande-Synthe. These camps were in industrial parks, in forests, under motorway bridges and in disused waste lands. Numbers in the camps tend to fluctuate throughout the year, with approximately 600 displaced people in Calais and 400 in Dunkirk at any given point throughout the year. This includes men, women and children, accompanied and unaccompanied, from Afghanistan, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kurdistan, with smaller numbers from various African, Middle Eastern, Asian and Eastern European countries.
Many refugees meet with our team every week to understand their rights, discuss their plans, call their family and/or access the internet. Living homeless as a refugee is fraught with anxiety, loneliness and danger. Making contact with parents, partners or children that have been left behind at home, or even stranded in transit countries can relieve this tension slightly. Every day, we see the positive effects that our service has on our beneficiaries wellbeing. While many refugees in Europe have a smartphone, funds to buy credit are less common. As a result individuals are unable to access the Internet in order either to communicate with family and friends or to plan their future. The Refugee Info bus has a model to meet this unfulfilled need, which we have piloted and successfully expanded. Whilst many excellent NGOs are providing support to those who have settled in Europe, Refugee Info Bus specialises in supporting those who are on the move, or who live in difficult or transient places.
Most displaced people in Greece are stuck in a state of limbo, trapped in a notoriously slow asylum procedure and legally unable to move off the Greek islands camps. In Greece, Refugee Info Bus was based in Athens and produced multilingual legal information videos which provide clear and accessible explanations of the complex asylum system. We suspended our ground operations in Greece in January 2020.
For the most up-to date information on the situation in Greece please check out: https://www.facebook.com/mobileinfoteam/