Solidarity & self-organisation at the Dunkirk refugee camp - A better world is possible


Around 1000 people currently live in a camp near Dunkirk in France.  Many of them are Kurdish, fleeing either ISIS in Syria, the Iranian state or the Turkish states war against the Kurdish part of its population.  Some families have already spent 10 months in the camp.

Many hope to get to the UK just a short and very famous journey away across the sea.  There is a motorway near the camp and when traffic slows down some in desperation try and leap onto passing lorries.  Sometimes people get killed doing this.

It’s an all too familiar story and there is a liberal tendency to paint the people living in these conditions as victims requiring our charity.  What we want to talk about here is how this isn’t the case, that instead people in the camps are self organising with solidarity activists and in the most difficult of circumstances taking some control back over their lives. It's solidarity we need to talk about, not charity.

With the cruel Direct Provision system in Ireland one of the worst aspects is people not being able to prepare their own food for family and friends.  In Dunkirk the Kesha Niya Kitchen is a volunteer run kitchen that is feeding 1000 people a day.

A friend of ours recently volunteered to help in kitchen.  With impeccable timing she arrived at the camp on the night of the racist Brexit vote in the UK and has been updating us on what’s going on.  

The kitchen is staffed by about 5 solidarity volunteers and 12 refugee volunteers, the ‘Kurdish brothers’, who are currently working hard 17 hours a day to help the other refugees in the camp by preparing food.  Food is made by the people for the people.  The kitchen is trying to feed 1000 people every day and they need solidarity, either financial help or supplies.  More details on how to help at the end.

Ramadan has just ended but as a lot of the camp are Muslim this meant that for that period a lot of the camp occupants can’t eat during daylight hours.  To make sure they have early morning and late evening meals volunteets were working pretty much from 8am until 5am.

This is made more difficult by the police at the gates as they make it really hard to get the gas for cooking in.   The kitchen uses 12 bottles of gas but the police are trying to make them refill only 3 at a time. Which would mean four long trips instead of one to the shop where the gas is obtained. This is a huge problem as the volunteers are already short of both time and money.

The camp itself is state / NGO run and has been open since March 7th, the state and MSF have agreed – over the heads of the residents - to close it March next year. There is some infrastructure like toilets and, showers and a laundry room but in heavy rain the camp floods.

There are shortages, she tells us “there is no soap in any of the bathrooms and people get sick” The camp is getting very little money or attention. It is not even on the refugee map. When new refugees come they are supposed to be given blankets but at one point they ran out – that is less of a problem now.

About 50 children live there and there is a school. The state and reduce the population of the camp to 400, but where are people to go?  The police and Afeji (government run NGO) do not allow new refugees to enter the camp.

The camp isn’t paved which means particularly when it rains it gets dirty very easily. People are trying their best but everyone is overworked.

The worst thing is that most people here have nothing to do. No work at all yet some, many are highly skilled people.  They are excluded from all decision making processes and are infantilised and victimized.  In the camp nobody from the administration asks refugees what they want.

Some people are going back to the countries that they fled from because it is better to risk death than the humiliation of staying.


Solidarity suggestions

Like the Kitchen on Facebook

They are looking for kitchen volunteers from Sunday 20th of July!
To get involved, please contact
+49 1575 6840726

Organise a fundraiser

To donate money you can use any of the following:
Betterplace: (Credit card, bank transfer, paypal, giropay)
Paypal for people in Central Europe:
Paypal for everyone else via Email: (
Bitcoin: 1LWDTN4yfW3Nj2a5Pi1umn4fgm6p9DfJZa
Bank account:
Depositor: Schoenere Willkommenskulture. V.
IBAN: DE70290501010081690141

WORDS: Andrew Flood
Images: From the Keshaniya Facebook, main image shows recent flooding at the camp