“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
– Warsan Shire
That’s the truth. No matter what the media says about people leaving for economic benefits or people who should have stayed to fight for their country. Would you live in these conditions if you didn’t have to?
I headed back to The Jungle last weekend. Desperate to go back and help since I left in September, I left London at 2am to board a 4:20 am ferry. I wondered what it would be like after the Paris Attacks…whether refugees would be facing more discrimination than they already were, whether they knew how much more difficult crossing borders was about to get.
It was like what I had seen in September but bigger, more crowded and very wet and cold. The constant rain and the mud has made it impossible. My first thought was how cold I was. And then I realised I had a home to go back to, with heating, where it was dry and I was protected from the wind and rain. All because of the passport I was born lucky enough to have access to. It’s not right. It struck me how unfair life is sometimes.
Hopeful graffiti is all around the camp. They may not have much, but I have never met more positive people in my life. Even now that the weather had dropped to just above zero.
One thing I noticed this time around was that there were more and more permanent structures in The Jungle. On one hand, I was happy to see this because it meant people were maybe slightly more secure from the wind, and perhaps weren’t getting as wet at night. On the other hand, it means that this is not a problem that was going to go away. People have been there for months. Can’t the governments see that even one day is too many in The Jungle?
These people are making this place feel like home because it’s probably the only way to make everything seem like it’s going to get better. Maybe some of them have accepted that they could be here a long time. I despair. I despair at all these powerful countries turning a blind eye to a real problem, with real people.
The desire to get to the UK has nothing to do with our benefits system here. These are harder working people than most people I’ve met anywhere else. They are so bored in the Jungle, the last thing they want to do is live off of benefits! Getting to Britain has largely to do with the fact that we speak English here.
I met a Muslim British man at breakfast while I was in Calais. He told me that he feels British. He, regardless of how he looks, what his grandparents nationality was, he is British. And we accept that. It’s one of the best things about the UK. And it makes it easier for people to integrate. Something the UK should be so proud of, makes people want to come here.
It seems that art is a way for the refugees to brighten up the place. It’s painful how many talents are not being given the outlet they need to fulfil their potential.
There has been a theatre and art workshop area set up in The Jungle by some wonderful volunteers. Refugees can come here to take part in acting classes, painting and photography. The results are wonderful and very powerful.
Captioned pictures are taped to the walls.
The warehouse of L’Auberge des Migrants is where the magic happens. Donations come in by the truck load, are sorted and are distributed to refugees as quickly as possible. Since September, the charity has moved to a larger warehouse and is much more organised than before. There’s a real sense of camaraderie when lunch is cooked and everyone eats together.
You’d be amazed at how many people use donating clothes as an excuse to clean out their wardrobe. It’s great that there are so many donations, but imagine how much more productive we could be if people put some thought in to what would be useful to these refugees?
Saturday night brought with it very very strong winds. Candles are lit for light during the night and on that night it caught fire and left dozens of people “homeless”. I spoke to many volunteers who were up and dressed and ready to go at 2am. To get everyone in a dry place for the night and to rebuild the next day. It’s amazing what these people do.
These people don’t have much so to see everything wiped out in a matter of minutes is heartbreaking. Luckily, no one died and only 3 people went to hospital for non-life threatening injuries.
The winds were so powerful that they tilted many half made structures.
And completely devastated others.
On Sunday morning I popped in to one of the many cafes in The Jungle for some breakfast. These lovely breads were made by a Bangladeshi man and his Syrian friends.
A volunteer walking back with a bag full of baguettes that a refugee had just tried to steal off him. Luckily he caught him, and was able to distribute them fairly, but it just goes to show how important it is to do a distribution correctly.
This cutie was 5 years old. I gave his father the whole bag of children’s clothes I had in the car. He could not stop thanking me, and I couldn’t help but think how unfair life was. How a talented little boy isn’t being given the opportunity to go to school, or to have friends over at his house after school.
Faces of The Jungle.
As we left on Sunday back to the warehouse, we were shocked to see this many riot vans on the outskirts of The Jungle. These are peaceful people. If you just paid attention to the desperate situation they are in and helped them, there would be no need for violence, for tear gas and for this huge waste of tax payer money.
There was definitely a heightened police presence after the 13th of November.
As we left Calais and approached the queue to board the ferry, I couldn’t help but think how unfair life was. I had a few pieces of paper glued together with my picture in, stamped with the words passport, and that’s that. The man at the border asked me what I was doing in Calais and I explained that I had been volunteering at the warehouse and in The Jungle distributing to refugees. I asked him if he had ever been, if being so close by every day he had bothered to go and help. He said “No, but I have met some of the refugees. Perhaps in a slightly different context than you have…you know like when I catch them in the backs of lorries and stuff!”
It was so inappropriate and so distasteful that I didn’t know how else to react apart from laugh and drive on.
The short trip to Calais did make me feel like I was pouring water in to a bucket with a hole in it. A week later thinking back, there’s still a huge benefit in volunteers going out to help. Even though we as individual people are overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the situation, every act of kindness is noticed. People appreciate the volunteers being there, and if we need to fill the bucket several times before we get the opportunity to fix the leak in the bucket, then so be it.