A few weeks ago I visited the refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk with my two colleagues, Annie and Brad. The three of us had different reasons for going, what we wanted to see, and what information we wanted to collect. I’m sure that the three of us ended up coming to the same conclusion by the end of our visit, and I’m sure that none of us managed to collect what information we first wanted to gather!
We arrived in Calais at around 9.00 am and were met by a very helpful young lady. I will not mention her name, as we’d been told about the volunteers being threatened because of the work that they’ve been doing. She spent the day taking us around the camps, the warehouse, and introducing us to some of the refugees and volunteers. They do such an amazing, hard job! We were told that the thing that would help out immensely, would be more long term volunteers.
Our first stop was Dunkirk, which is seen as the worst of the two camps. I’m sure that people will have different views on that, depending where you are staying and what you have seen. One camp has pieces of tents held together with tarpaulin, where up until recently, the other camp had wooden huts, tents and some caravans. In Dunkirk, where the tents were situated, they were surrounded by mud and water, over ankle high in certain places. Some refugees preferred to stay at that camp, although the conditions were worse, they felt safer! I’m sure there are quite a few more people heading to that camp after the destruction that has taken place in the south side of the jungle.
In the Calais camp, they were subjected to brutality from the Police near enough every other day. I saw a photograph that one of the refugees had taken, of a tear gas canister, it just said “tear gas – why?” That pretty much says it all to me! I have since seen videos where tear gas has been used on the men, women and children, while trying to evict them.
Then there’s also a fascist group that the police were apparently allowing into the camps to beat up, hospitalise, and in some cases, even kill! Five bodies were found under a bridge next to the camp about a week before we were there. Out of all the things that I saw in the camps, the poor living conditions, the lack of Governmental help, the brutality that these poor human beings were suffering, by the people who are supposed to protect them. That is the thing that I found the hardest to comprehend! I just wish that I could do more to help these fellow human beings.
Along with the destitution that I saw in the camps, you could still see remnants of hope! A hut which had been turned into a school, the various shops that had been put together, the small playground for the young children, all showed that they still had faith.
When we arrived in the Calais camp, one Church and Mosque had already been pulled down. All that remained was the front cross of the Church. The Pastor was standing below it, already holding another cross. It will be an image, along with many others, that I will never forget! I had never witnessed a look like that on the Pastor’s face. A look of absolute loss and disbelief! I hope that I never witness that look again. Unfortunately I’m sure that I will. There were many Police, wearing armour, and some carrying riot shields. It certainly wasn’t the refugees that I was afraid of, it was the people wearing uniforms, that I’d been brought up to respect.
There is no easy, or quick solution to the problems in Calais and Dunkirk, but surely it’s not too hard to treat these people as human beings. They have already suffered enough!
After having their Church and Mosque destroyed, I hoped that the refugees who welcomed Annie, Brad and me, would manage to hold on to what limited hope and faith that they still had! How is that possible? When they’ve been moved out of what they’d made into a home again? To have lost everything once, is bad, but for a second time, well, that’s something that I cannot envisage.
There were quite a few groups, with plenty of people trying to prevent this from happening, but unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.
David Cameron has said that 3000 unaccompanied children are welcome over here, if they go to the French authorities. The only problem with that is, we were told that they would not go to the authoritarians to give them any information, as they were afraid that they would be kept in that country.
A lot of the children that are trying to get to the UK, have a legitimate reason for risking their lives to get to this country, ie – family!