I visited what was left of the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais on Tuesday Nov 1st with friend Mitch, who has been making regular visits over the last year and a half with various volunteer groups. I accompanied him and others for a working weekend last May, when the camp was still in full swing. The difference was starkly depressing.

The entire site, once a huddled city of makeshift tens and shelters, a place of both hope and despair with a huge community spirit, was now an empty and desolate wasteland, dotted with piles of burnt wood and the remains of shelters, still blowing gusts of acrid smoke in the wintry air. Bulldozers rampaged over the area, clearing the rubble.

Calais town was eerily quiet, but we sensed unseen presences behind closed doors.  Although the camp has been evacuated and demolished, thousands of inhabitants bussed off to other parts of France, where they are probably not welcomed by right wing mayors, there are still refugees scattered all over the area. Many of them were unable to register because of the chaos and inefficiency of the registration system. Some have fled into the woods to set up makeshift camps and live rough. Some have gone into hiding with kind French people, (yes there are some in Calais) until they can sort themselves out. One Frenchwoman took in an Afghan family with young children. They were taken back to the camp and she was arrested and interrogated for four hours, and told she couldn’t offer shelter. Some are staying in the Salaam refuge, a Moslem centre which will take anyone from any religion. Some have been staying in a Catholic refuge centre. And many have gravitated to Paris, where they have been camping out in the open and treated brutally by French riot police.

All that was left of the camp itself was a collection of what I all the ‘Container Kids.’ 1500 unaccompanied minors who had been left behind after the main evacuation last week, to be temporarily sheltered in the containers at the edge of the camp. There was no running water or electricity and no provision to feed or care for them, so they have been relying on food brought to them by the charity organisations. During that last week, 200 of them were unable to get into the containers and were forced to sleep in the open, leaving them exposed and vulnerable to people traffickers.

Before going to the containers, we visited the Warehouse, the Auberge de Migrants, run by the main volunteer group Help Refugees. Despite the fact that the camp has been cleared, the warehouse is still alive with activity. Volunteers are working round the clock, sorting donations to be taken to refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and Syria, where they are now actively operating. At that point they were also busy preparing food for the container kids and taking it to them. We talked for awhile with some of the volunteers and heard some horrific stories about police brutality to the young refugees. We heard about arms being broken, police going into containers and pepper spraying young boys, a boy hit by a rubber bullet who has been in hospital and will probably never be the same again.  

The CRS, the French riot police, are pretty monstrous. As described in the previous blog entry, they look like the Storm troopers from Star Wars except in black, with big shoulder and knee pads. They frequently use water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets during protests and riots. These people are being treated like animals, they are angry, confused and frightened, and I think that anyone would lose the plot in that situation. It has been exacerbated by fascist thugs going into the camp to attack refugees, and violent people traffickers attacking lorries. 

The riot police were already gathering in force when we arrived at what was left of the camp. At around 2.00 in the afternoon, a phalanx of about 20 riot police vehicles swooped down the side road leading to the containers, blue lights flashing, and parked up.
Smirking police officers stood around, flexing for a fight.

At that point the area around the container camp seemed relatively calm. They were just a bunch of teenagers, larking about, riding donated bikes, playing football in a nearby field, groups of giggling teenage girls exchanging catcalls with the boys. There was mix of all ages and both sexes, contrary to popular perceptions. Many were as young as 8, but most were aged between 15 and 17. (Think about it - 8 year old kids on their own, no parents, no support.) There were several groups of white European volunteers dishing out food from makeshift soup kitchens. The kids were cheerful and friendly and I was amazed at their resilience and courage. There are Afghans, Syrians, Eritreans, Somalis, many different national groups, but most of them orphans whose parents have been killed in the conflicts they have fled from. Fights do break out among them, because resources are scarce and they are all fighting for survival. They are lonely, frightened and confused.

Most of them want to come to the UK because they have family here and they speak English. They don’t want to stay in a country alone where they don’t speak the language. We forget that English is the main language of the world because we had a big empire spanning the globe. Talk about own goal.

Many people also don’t realize that there are 15 conflicts going on around Africa and the Middle East. It’s not just about Syria. Last May I talked to many young boys and men and heard their stories. All of them heartbreaking, about families torn apart, young people forced to flee to apparent safety from conflict and persecution.

And here’s another reminder – only 4% of ALL refugees are trying to get to Britain. The rest are heading elsewhere. Yet the tabloid press seem to create the impression that all of them want to come only here.

We left at around 5pm to catch the ferry home and later learnt that another riot had broken out after we left. Apparently the youngsters were protesting about their inhumane treatment and not knowing what was to happen to them. The French riot police responded with their usual brutality.

The next day at 8am, on Wednesday 2nd November, coaches arrived to transport them to unknown destinations around France, where they await to hear about their fate, and whether they will be allowed to join their families here in the UK.

And that’s it – the end of the jungle. It’s gone. A sad end to a sad story, which will be continuing elsewhere. It’s not over yet.  

I can’t stop thinking about these kids. What will happen to them? Anyone who is a parent and knows the truth about what’s going on can’t fail to be concerned. No doubt the government will take a token few of them for appearances sake, to gain some bogus humanitarian credentials.

Most importantly, what has happened to our humanity? How can we turn our backs on people who are running away from terrible situations that our governments here in the West have helped create, with our arms dealing and foreign policy interference?

This is the biggest story of the century, the last test of humankind. As Angelina Jolie points out, this problem is not going to go away, and if we keep ignoring it and thinking it is not our problem, it is going to get worse and impact on us all.

Needless to say, the tabloid press have been doing their best to undermine public sympathy for these people. With de-humanising language like ‘hordes’ and ‘swathes’ and ‘migrants’ instead of refugees, which in my mind they all are. And of course, big emphasis on the fact that some of those newly arrived in the UK are older than 18, despite the fact that they have probably been refugees since before they were 18. Does being over 18 suddenly make people sub-human? This is typical tabloid sleight of hand, a distraction technique designed to brainwash the gullible public into dismissing these people as undeserving of compassion.

One paper has been giving balanced coverage of the refugee crisis and I attach the links below. Do please read if you have time. And spread the word if you feel inclined. The more people understand about this situation the better we can find a solution.

Wednesday 2nd Nov

Tuesday 1st Nov

Sat 29th October

Friday 28th October

Thursday 27th October


Posted 115 weeks ago

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