Politics at Play: Locating Human Rights, Refugees and Grassroots Humanitarianism in the Calais Jungle

Darragh McGee, Juliette Pelham

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This article examines the political footprint of a new wave of grassroots humanitarian organisations in the informal refugee camp, popularly dubbed ‘The Jungle’, in Calais, northern France. Set against the formal humanitarian void created by the French state barring of international aid agencies, and the abject conditions of camp life, we trace the shifting socio-spatial remit and progressive politicisation of these ‘apolitical’ organisations as they encounter a crisis of human rights in the Jungle, prior to its violent demolition by state decree in October 2016. In foregrounding the organisational perspectives of Play4Calais and the Refugee Youth Service, and their unorthodox deployment of play, sport, cinema and art, we reveal a grassroots humanitarian praxis which offers an alternative to the large-scale ‘professionalised’ registers of aid delivery. By virtue of their relative informality, spatial proximity and volunteer activism, these grassroots organisations not only stand in tension with the violent border sovereignties of neoliberal states, but open up the inchoate possibility for political struggle and refugee-centred claims-making over the right to inhabit the ‘exceptional’ space of the camp.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)22-35
Number of pages14
JournalLeisure Studies
Issue number1
Early online date24 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Grassroots humanitarianism
  • calais
  • human rights
  • play
  • refugee camp
  • sport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Tourism, Leisure and Hospitality Management


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