Changing the conversation.
We’re having conversations about how to communicate this crisis. How to let people know that the Calais Jungle from 2016 might be gone, but the inhumane conditions and avoidable political choices that cause them are still very present.
There is no blue plastic tarpaulin covering hobbled together chipboard shelters as far as the eye can see. Coming off the ferry, there is no shanty town of 10,000 people on the dunes of a former chemical dump at the side of the motorway. This lack of visual cue has made being unaware of or actively ignoring the crisis that much easier. Right now, there are around 2000 homeless people in Northern France sheltering in woodlands, car parks, industrial estates, squatted buildings and under bridges. These are men, women, children and families fleeing war, persecution, state repression, violence, economic degradation or other unimaginable reasons to leave one’s home. Their welcome in Europe, however, consists of further violence and repression, further degradation and lack of respect for their human rights, enacted with choice by our governments.
Here, a brief respite from this inhumane treatment is a small number of completely outnumbered and under-resourced volunteers. A response to this crisis is imperative and yet not our responsibility, but we find ourselves too often the difference between a meal, a blanket and a tent, or an even colder, wetter night with an empty stomach. It makes it all the sadder when back in the UK, this dreaded sentence reverberates: “Refugees in Calais? I didn’t think the Jungle was there anymore.”
Get your democratic representative out here!
As part of an attempt to convey the number of people living in this hostile environment, I spent two days last week with Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central, who famously quoted Stormzy in Parliament. One of her constituents is a former volunteer and was instrumental in ensuring that her democratic representative came and witnessed the avoidable humanitarian crisis, unfolding 20 miles away from Kent. While here, Sarah and her team put an absolute shift in. On Thursday evening, they came on a Refugee Community Kitchen food distribution helping to serve up curry, rice and salad to around 1300 people, mostly from Iraqi Kurdistan, in Grande-Synthe. On Friday, they came on a Help Refugees distribution to Calais, helping the team to distribute jumpers and warm layers to around 200 people from Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Sudan, and Iran.
Although four extra, hard-working people is always helpful, to work towards long-term change, we also need the support of people with a public profile and a privilege to advocate. We need people with influence, platforms and the ability to affect policy that changes the dialogue around refugees/migrants/asylum seekers in Calais. We need to move away from the unjustified, stoked up fear, and move toward the more natural responses of seeing someone at the door in need of help; empathy, welcome and care. Getting MPs and representatives out here in Calais is really important.
What can you do to help?
In politics and public life, we need to highlight how simple this choice is; fear of the outsider or indiscriminate compassion – regardless of where someone was born, the colour of their passport, the lines on the map. First of all, we need to flood Parliament with people who can advocate, support and speak on behalf of refugees. Secondly, we need to make some noise about the complicity of the British government in this unacceptable situation: there are children here in abhorrent living conditions, many of whom have a legal right to be with their families in the UK. These, often unaccompanied, minors are forced to wait homeless for months, expecting a response from UK authorities, often to receive none at all.
People have fled horrendous situations in their own country and want to find safety in ours; where they have family or friends and want to build a life but we shut the door on them. The UK has spent over 150 million pounds on the people here; not on accommodation or keeping people safer but on razor wire, fences, surveillance drones, tear gas and walls.
Please, write to your MP – multiple times if you have to, and tell them to come and see the walls that you are paying for. Tell them that you want them, as your democratic representative, to convey your welcome to the people here; ignored, silenced and forgotten.
Hundreds of displaced people – in Calais, Grande-Synthe, Paris and beyond – are sleeping on the streets. They have faced another winter without shelter, and are dependent on volunteers for support. If you are able to help us help them, please donate here.
This article was written by Josh Hallam for Help Refugees.