our work in northern france
We provide the internet via a mobile van, with technology that can comfortably deal with around 100 connections at any one time. We also provide phone charging facilities, enabling refugees to charge their phones, while they connect to the internet. This creates a space where refugees can sit and relax for a few hours each day, chatting with friends, sharing music, playing games, or gaining access to the other services that Info Bus provides. According to the United Nations, internet access is a human right. For refugees, it is a lifeline, allowing them to keep in touch with their families and loved ones on the other side of the world. It is also essential as a source of news, information and education. It gives people a chance to build an identity beyond being refugees, as well as simply listening to music or watching the latest football.
The demand for phones in Northern France is extremely high. Phones are confiscated or get damaged during eviction operations, are damaged due to the harsh weather conditions or are misplaced. We have been able to provide second-hand phones to community members through donations we received. We have also provided a phone-fixing service, where we supply new batteries and bring phones to a local shop in Calais to get fixed. This means that we don't have to replace peoples phones. Being able to fix the phone people already have is really important, as it allows them to retain their personal information, photos and documents- all things that keep them connected to people in their life. In October 2020 we started our phone championship campaign where people could collect phones in their local community and donate them to us. So far, this campaign has been really successful and has enabled us to give more phones out. For information on how to become a phone champion click here.
In November we were able to fix approximately 25 phones and distributed new phones to community members who had no phone. We also gave out over 80 phone cables, new plug heads and new batteries. We were able to use some recently received donations for responding to the demand for phone batteries. As charge cannot be provided every day at each living site in Calais, a good battery is considered essential by our service users. As such, one of our team members is now in charge of taking orders for batteries and ordering them online. Ultimately, this project has the same idea as the phone repair; allowing people to keep their own personal items, and allowing us to give phones to people who do not have one at all.
In November 2020 we assessed the impact of phone distribution on our service. We felt that it was taking up a large chunk of time, and was preventing us from focusing on other important parts of our service including access to information provision. Therefore, we entered a partnership with Refugee Women's Centre, Refugee Youth Service and Utopia 56, where we will fix and provide the phones for them to distribute. Displaced people in Northern France continue to face constant evictions and police harassment, with many people having all of their possessions (including phones, phone chargers and power banks) taken from them. Ultimately, this means that we are constantly trying to replace such items, but are never able to fully meet the demand. Please consider donating to Refugee Info Bus, to help us support displaced people in Calais through connectivity and information.
In summer of 2019, we began producing a Calais and Dunkirk new arrival guide in Northern France, which is aimed at providing information on services that people can access in the region. This includes access to food, material distributions, legal aid and charge. They are translated into nine languages that the service users in Northern France use and are regularly updated to include changes to services. With the continued permanent evictions occurring in Northern France, these guides became more important than ever. They meant that community members would be able to find the news areas for distribution and that they would have information about where to access all services.
We believe that access to information is not only a human right, but that it is also a lifeline for people in Northern France. We provide information on both the UK and French asylum system, on your rights while you're in France and safety guides. We have information packs which provide an overview, in the translated language of the UK asylum system. These guides are based on the Right to Remain guides, and updated according to changes in the legal system.
In 2019, we launched a brand new video series about the UK asylum system, a joint project between ourselves, Right to Remain and Syrian artist, Sara Khyat. Based on the Right to Remain toolkit, with translations by Refugee Info Bus and with stunning animation by Sara, these videos will help people understand their rights at crucial stages of the asylum process. The videos cover four key stages: an introduction to claiming asylum, the asylum screening interview, the asylum substantive (big) interview, and after a refusal of your asylum claim. The videos are available in English, Arabic, Amharic, Oromo, Tigrinya and Sorani. They are available on our facebook!
We also work with legal groups on the ground in Northern France, to be able to provide the most up-to date information for the communities. We have an active working group, which includes researchers, lawyers and information gathers in the UK and France. If you have a law background and would like to join our working group, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org