The prospect of going to visit a refugee camp in Calais, France, definitely made me and a few other classmates wary. I was further put on edge when Annie Gavrilescu, our guide into the camp, told us there have been instances of refugees and volunteers attacked and harassed by hate groups.
This camp is a home and community that is routinely disrespected and put in danger by volunteers, journalists and other visitors who, as Gavrilescu put it, treat a community of displaced people as a zoo.
Journalists must avoid participating in voyeurism rather than developing the relationships and knowledge that come from in-depth reporting.
Medill students who have done their research are clearly not members of the callous few who would do harm to people living in the camp. Yet it is easy to jump to an unwelcome and problematic position when carrying a camera in an area that you do not call your home. From the get-go, I believed that it was necessary to communicate that this trip was not for us. The people who have experienced varieties of trauma are not obligated to serve as sources for our bylines. I was glad to have professors who understood this fact.
We spent about eight hours in the camp. Looking back, I believe the visit and the conversations allowed many students to see the error in Western thinking that instructs us to see only tragedy and destitution in refugee camps. We saw scenes of love, fraternity and community that showed how simplistic interpretations discount the resilience, the human bonds and the inspiring stories of the residents who converged here from hundreds of points on the globe.
My group spoke with migrants about the challenges of spending Ramadan in a refugee camp; the shortage of food and water that make it difficult to observe the traditions of this religious month. We saw how much the mainstream media – and its audiences – miss when journalists don’t make time to recognize and convey nuance.
Our team got to know different people and some of their stories. It was a calming end to the day, but the contrast between the camp and the streets of Paris when we stepped off a high-speed train just before nightfall was jarring.
– – Elena Sucharetza