Calais Jungle volunteer who raised alarm over 'sexual exploitation' of refugees publicly names himself

Aid worker who received online abuse pleased that the The Independent broke the story and says refugees will now have more confidence to report wrongdoing

May Bulman
Friday 23 September 2016 19:43 BST
The 'Jungle' migrant camp, Calais: UK charity Help Refugees found nearly 300 unaccompanied minors living in the camp in April
The 'Jungle' migrant camp, Calais: UK charity Help Refugees found nearly 300 unaccompanied minors living in the camp in April (Getty)

The aid worker who raised the alarm about volunteers "sexually exploiting" refugees in the Calais Jungle has decided to publicly name himself and says the issue is now being properly addressed.

Brendan Woodhouse, a former rescue worker who makes frequent trips to Calais to deliver aid, said a new "task force" had been set up to investigate allegations that volunteers, particularly women, were engaging in potentially exploitative sexual relationships with refugees in the camp.

Speaking to The Independent the day after our story was published, Mr Woodhouse, 40, said: "The positive outcome from the Facebook post was that a taskforce of people have set about really working out how best to face the challenges within the camp.

“It's about safeguarding and reporting mechanisms. You saw what a lot of the people said. Some of the key players took it very seriously and started up a task force group that I was invited to join.”

Mr Woodhouse, 40, from Derbyshire, added that it would be a complex process to bring an end to the wide-ranging abuse, explaining that “there are a lot of complicated issue to deal with when tackling this.”

The problem of sexual exploitation in the Jungle was raised after Mr Woodhouse started a discussion on a Facebook group for Jungle workers called Calais People to People Solidarity in which he raised the issue of “sexual exploitation and its damaging and direct correlation to the provision of aid in the Jungle”.

He was subsequently subjected to a barrage of online abuse from fellow volunteers, with some accusing him of misogyny and sexism while others claimed it shouldn't be discussed on a public forum. But others agreed with him and acknowledged that volunteer-refugee relationships were a serious issue in the camp that should not be “covered up”.

The post was later deleted after concerns were raised that it would become a scandal if it were seen by journalists. The Independent saved a copy before it was removed and exposed the issue.

Mr Woodhouse added that it was a minority of volunteers who engage in the sexual exploitation and stressed that it was a result of the Jungle not being considered as an official refugee camp, and instead being run by a large number of charities operating independently.

"All I can say is that this wouldn't be happening if it was an official camp run by one of the large humanitarian organisations," he said. "It's the nature of working with refugees and the fact that it is an illegal camp and that there's no overarching organisation taking responsibility. There are two or three kitchens, two or three organisations for aid.

"There's a whole host of organisations and trying to get the information to all of them is going to be a difficult process.

"The vast majority of volunteers do a fantastic job for these vulnerable people. It's a travesty that it's left to ordinary people like me and the other volunteers to go and help.

"Of course in every group of people, there will be those who don't share the same values that I have, but what do you expect when the governments of the U.K. And France leave 10,000 people to starve?"

There was a mixed response to the article on the Calais People to People Solidarity Facebook group, with some expressing outrage at the fact that the issue had been exposed to the public, while others saying it was a "relief" the issue was now being openly addressed.

Clare Mosely, founder of charity Care4Calais, also welcomed the issue being brought to light. She again urged that all volunteers should avoid having sexual relationships with refugees because of the vulnerability of many of the people in the camp.

Ms Mosely said: "I was really pleased to read the article. It's good that the issue has been exposed and that the government has been held to account.

"If it was an official refugee camp, with the UNHCR and the Red Cross here, then we wouldn't have to be here would we?

"As volunteers we have ot be really careful. The refugees haven't got anything to do in the camp and don't have a lot of human contact. They can read a lot more into things."

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in