A day in Calais’s refugee camp.
Yesterday I went back to the camp after not being there for over a week…the longest period that I haven’t been over the last three months.
I was so ready to be back there, I had been craving the outpouring of hope and positivity, the buzz of entrepreneurial activity, the chaotic peace I find myself surrounded by.
As soon as we arrived, shocked by the growth, I bumped in to several friends…’YASMEEN…I thought you were sick!’ ‘YASMEEN, Where have you been!?’ I’d bloody missed them and felt a weird mix of happiness to see them but disappointment that they were still here, struggling. A struggle increasing day by day as the cold sets into their bones with no chance to reset, to get a little bit warm, to go INSIDE even for a few minutes!
Our morning was filled with meetings about wifi. With the money and awareness we have raised through the amazing power of social media and the Internet, we are bringing Internet to the camp.
I know for many people this doesn’t seem like a priority, but it really really is. Communication with family, friends and the people they love is of course so important, but also, access to information. This allows people to make informed choices, to be connected and gain back some of the opportunities open to the rest of us in Europe, and that’s only fair right? How can you have a chance to be a productive member of society when you’re totally cut off from it, and lacking some key tools.
The meetings were with some brilliant, inspiring people and plans are underway, which is seriously exciting! One of those people is an amazing guy who lived in the camp for over a year, surviving last winter. He has now successfully claimed asylum in France but continues to work in the camp and is building an Internet cafe! So awesome!
After an amazing lunch in the Afghan part of the camp (the most deliciously fragrant rice I have ever tasted, some spiced kidney beans, bread, and a bit of salad and chicken), we went to visit the Sudanese camp where I always sleep. They have been busy building and the shelters were looking better..I was very impressed! I would be so bloody useless if I found myself in their situation and had to build myself a house to survive the winter with seriously limited tools and materials.
In the afternoon I went to a meeting about these mass evictions and bulldozing of the camp I was talking about yesterday. Police presence in the camp was higher than ever but nothing had seemed to happen yet, apart from the arrival of some interesting looking big red poles, marking out a large area in the middle of the camp.
As if life in the camp isn’t hard enough, there is so much uncertainty, that you can never create any comfort, any kind of stability or security. Turns out the government / police have decided Calais can no longer be home to over 4000 refugees and are planning mass arrests and dispersion of people across France (illegal), to bring the numbers down to 2000. What came out of the meeting for me was the lack of real information and the complete panic and desperation of the people in the camp about their situation and their future. There are many really scary rumours about the course of action the police plan to take, but until it happens, no one really knows. I guess the best thing we can do is just respond when it does, in the best way we can / know how, and ensure people know they are supported and their lives / futures are cared about by so many.
It always breaks my heart to make the journey back, the journey that people are regularly dying trying to make, and that is made so easy for us. It seems so wrong. What gives me any more right to make it? Surely just the luck of birth is not enough to allow me that right? I didn’t DO anything for it, whereas the people in the camp did a LOT. They crossed the world, many on foot, many faced death, lost families, left everything behind. And still it’s not enough to be granted a chance. It’s unbelievable to me, every single time.