Norfolk man provides a mobile phone lifeline at the Jungle
PUBLISHED: 07:00 05 September 2016 | UPDATED: 07:46 05 September 2016
Keeping people at the Calais Jungle camp connected to the outside world is the aim of a service set up by a Norfolk man.
James Pearce, 32, has started a service whereby refugees and displaced people can have their phones topped up with credit, to stay in touch with others and keep them safe.
Mr Pearce, from Suton, near Wymondham, said the scheme had already been a lifesaver, as a boy who had his phone topped up was able to call for help when he and 14 other stowaways were trapped in the back of a refrigerated lorry and running out of oxygen.
Mr Pearce, a support worker for social care group Norfolk First Support said: “Since November I’ve made eight or nine trips over to Calais to volunteer, and quite a few people asked me how they could get their phones topped up.
“We’ve now done over £5,500 top-ups, and it’s entirely funded by members of the public.”
The service is run through a Facebook page called ‘Phone credit for refugees and displaced people’, which already has more than 20,000 members.
People can receive a £20 top-up, and are allowed to ask once every 30 days.
Mr Pearce said unaccompanied children at the camp was the service’s top priority, as authorities relied on them having a mobile phone to be able to locate them through GPS.
He said: “129 unaccompanied children actually went missing in March, when they demolished a large part of the camp.
“Nobody knows where they went, but if those children had had phone credit they might have been able to get in touch and be accounted for.”
Mr Pearce said the top-ups had a wide range of other benefits.
He said: “They can use the phones to speak to their families, and even for things like watching YouTube to alleviate the boredom of sitting at the camp for 24 hours a day.
“I spoke to one 14-year-old boy from Afghanistan who has family in Britain, he was using his mobile phone to learn English and do his GCSEs online.”
Mr Pearce said after people applied, there was an authentication process to make sure they were indeed at the Jungle.
He called on the British government to step in and make sure the people there were still being given basic human rights such as access to clean water.
Mr Pearce said: “To see the way people are dehumanised there is like stepping back into 1930s Germany.
“There’s not enough food, there’s no facilities for washing clothes, even the drinking water isn’t safe. It’s pretty shocking.”