The Jungle Still Exists
When I told my friends I was going to Calais to volunteer at the refugee camp commonly known as the Jungle, some were surprised because they thought it had already been demolished.
In late February and early March, French officials destroyed the southern part of the camp while leaving the northern part intact. Media coverage of the story misled people to assume the entirety had been flattened, and due to this numbers in volunteers have dropped and donations to the charity I was volunteering at hit an all time low.
What Happened to the Refugees After Their Homes Were Destroyed?
I don’t really want to use the word home for nothing but tarpaulin thrown over planks of wood or broken branches, but home is also about a sense of community which these refugees had, in their own way, tried to create. It eludes me what local officials were hoping to achieve by dismantling the camp accommodating between 800 refugees (according to local officials) and 3,000 (according to activists working there). The problem doesn’t miraculously disappear, on the contrary, the refugees are once again victims of displacement and uncertainty over what their future holds.
Those forced out moved to other camps including Dunkirk, fled deeper into the countryside or shifted to the northern sector of the Jungle. But now the jungle is smaller but denser. Previously, tents were placed together according to the geographical origin of the people – Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Kuwait, Eritrea, with sections now merged into one huge mass of approximately 5500 people, naturally this exacerbates tension and causes emotions to run high.
A lone refugee sits on a mound of rubble where an abandoned sleeping bag lies, and where previously the southern part of the Jungle used to exist before it was bulldozed over.
The Multi-Million Pound Barbed Wire Fence We Paid For
When our government spent millions and millions of tax payer’s money to erect a huge fence with barbed-wire to prevent refugees coming across the border, did we have the opportunity to challenge this? Nope. Was it heavily questioned or criticised? Not really. Was the story vastly unreported? Yes. Could that money have been used to bring unaccompanied children – the most vulnerable in all this – to safety? Absolutely.
I’m not saying I have the solution because I don’t, and before anyone reading this thinks I’m telling our government to let everyone in, I’m certainly not saying that either. In fact, nobody is saying that so I wish people would stop believing it. But should it be so much to ask for a greater display of governmental humanity, transparency and competency? Call me cynical, but the belief that dropping bombs over Syria will bring peace is hard to imagine. Creating peace through war is a contradiction in itself.
We have a right to know how our money is being used especially if it facilitates acts against humanity. Imagine if Britain had put a big wire fence up for the evacuees of WWII? It wasn’t acceptable then, so why is it acceptable now? Have the hands of our moral compass bent so far backwards?
Refugees Not Immigrants
I feel annoyed having to state this in 2016, but too many people either ignore or fail to understand the difference. The media doesn’t help, choosing to use the word immigrant to downplay the severity of what these people are going through. Language has the power to persuade and enlighten, but if we’re not using it correctly or if politicians purposely use convoluted language, how can we expect society to empathise – or worse – know what’s going on?
They should not be used interchangeably; one is an economic issue, and the other humanitarian. If you look at the latter word, the key subject is all in the name: human.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” ~ Emma Lazarus
This sonnet scrawled across a a make-shift tent in the camp, is also engraved on a plaque at the side of the Statue of Liberty. Let’s remind ourselves of these words written in 1883.
Uneducated and unskilled: False
All of the people I spoke to could speak several different languages, many were highly educated, and had the kind of bravery and spirit that I could only dream of having.
There is a misconception that refugees are uneducated. In reality you will find doctors, lawyers and many trained professionals with degrees who had good lives and often high incomes in their homeland before the war took hold, and all they had been working for their whole lives was taken from under their feet. They did not want to leave their countries, they had to.
One of the biggest travesties to grow out from this crisis will be the lost generation of children who did not have access to adequate education. How long do we have to wait until education is a human right and not a privilege?
Is it so hard to imagine that we can do this – get the parents into a position so they can work, in doing so putting money back into our economy and filling gaps in the workforce, while sending their kids to school and integrating them into society? This applies to not only the UK but all the countries that are safe for refugees to relocate.
One Blood, One Love
You, me, us, them – we’re the same. We’re all made up of the same stuff and we all have desires and dreams of our own, only we have been given the lottery ticket of life in a war-free zone. It could be any one of us in their situation, and for this reason we ought to drop this sense of entitlement that dominates Western culture.
People say charity begins at home and its often used as a slogan against assisting refugees, and whilst I believe that is true, why the heck should it be one or the other? After speaking to refugees and hearing personal stories, the gravity of what they have experienced is incomprehensible – loss of loved ones, injury, constant fear, torture, loss of house and possessions – and then when they do arrive they are treated with constant distain. It breaks my heart.
But while I’m appalled at their mistreatment, I have never felt so inspired or completely overwhelmed at their resilience to untold sadness and brutality. Everything I’ve ever complained about seems embarrassingly inconsequential now.
There Are More Men in Calais, and There’s a Reason For It
The influx of men is the main reason for rejecting the intake of refugees. But let me ask you this question, if you were a mother who had two children, one boy and one girl, and lived in a worn-torn country and you could only send one of them to make the harrowing journey across the middle east and countless European borders, would you send your son or your daughter? It’s an easy answer; you’d send your son because he would have a better chance of surviving. Parents also want to protect their sons from either having to fight against or be recruited by the likes of ISIS. If we had a proper structure in place, families would not have to be separated, people would not have to flee their country illegally and the journey would not have to be dangerous for them.
This Issue Should Already Have Been Fixed
I’ve been to nightclubs with more people, in the grand scheme of things the Calais refugee camp should have been sorted out a long time ago. Between us, Britain and France, are two of the world’s riches countries and who together boast some of greatest contributions to scientific and social progress, yet we can’t resolve this issue. We’re talking about little over 5000 people in Calais, to put that into perspective up to 5,000 people arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos every day.
Not Everyone Wants to Come to the UK
In reality, the UK proportionally take in much less refugees than other countries. Amnesty International present these figures for Syrian refugees (though in the camp there are several more nationalities) as of 2016:
- Turkey hosts 2.5 million refugees from Syria, more than any other country worldwide
- Lebanon hosts approximately 1.1 million refugees from Syria which amounts to around one in five people in the country
- Jordan hosts approximately 635,324 refugees from Syria, which amounts to about 10% of the population
- Excluding Germany and Sweden, the remaining 26 EU countries have pledged around 30,903 resettlement places, or around 0.7% of the Syrian refugee population in the main host countries
The reason England is popular is because many of them can speak English or they already have relatives here, maybe if we hadn’t colonized most of the world at some point or another we wouldn’t be seen as being so favourable.
We have a moral obligation to help countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to carry the burden of so many people, least of all because these countries are significantly poorer. It’s unsustainable economically and these areas closer to the origin of conflict are at greater risk of being destablised.
We CAN do more to help. In years to come, I want to be able to look back at this period in history, knowing we did what we could and say, “I’m proud to be British” – don’t you?