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Calais School Offers Another Face of Europe’s Migrant Crisis

  • Lisa Bryant

Europe is facing mounting criticism over how it is handling its biggest migration crisis since World War II. A school for migrants in Calais, France, however, is opening doors and building bonds across nationalities.

The students at the Chemins des Dunes School study art, tai chi, and especially French and English — languages that can help them apply for legal status in France or Britain.

Nigerian migrant Zimako Jones, who founded the school, said it's also bringing together Calais’ diverse migrant community.

"Maybe you the Kosovar," he said to a reporter. "He comes to school to sit down with blacks from Sudan, sometimes an Afghan, two or three Afghans. For me, it’s pleasure to see them live together, unite together.”

The school opened in July in a Calais migrant camp known as “The Jungle.” Waseem Mohammed, a Pakistani, arrived in Calais six weeks ago and is hoping to find work in France. Migrants at "The Jungle" told him about the school.

The school, he was told, "is free of charge. That is why I decide to come here to learn the French language.”

The school has a growing roster of volunteer teachers, including speech therapist Virginie Tiberghien, who lives in the area. Some Calais residents have staged protests against the migrants. But others, like Tiberghien, want to help them.

“I often see people on the road," she said, "so I wanted to meet them, to know the way they were living here. The school is a way to restore humanity. And so it’s a good thing.”

Volunteers are also coming from Britain. Science teacher Niamh McMahon, of Kent, crossed the English Channel by ferry with food, clothes and school supplies for the migrants. She heard about the school on Facebook.

“I just felt really emotional about what’s going on here, how these people are being treated," she said. "They’re desperate, they’re running away from war and torture and suffering. And in a lot of cases, [the problems have been] bcaused by Western policies. So I wanted to do what I could.”

Jones wants to establish another classroom just for women and children. The school is proof, he said, that migrants can create something positive in “The Jungle” of Calais, and that Europe and its migrants can build a future together.

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