You live in a huge house. It has 196 rooms. All the 196 rooms have a name and people who live in them. Your room is called Syria. A long corridor separates all 196 rooms from each other.
One day a fire starts in your beautiful room, and as it becomes engulfed in flames, you are forced to escape with your family. You loved your room, but you had no choice. You reach the door to the next room, but you soon see that this room is very full. Lots of other people from your room got there before you. You go on to the next room, where the residents say they will give refuge to only two members of your family, but they have to live in the toilet. You have no choice, you accept. You leave your elderly mother and father there, they are struggling with the journey.
You keep going, still looking for a safe room for you to live. You’d make a great addition to that room, willing to work hard do your bit to make that room great. You reach another room, they are full too. The occupants tell you about a group of rooms further down the corridor, who they say will welcome you. They have lots of space in those rooms. The problem, is, to get to these rooms, you have to cross a long, scary, flooded corridor. It’s a risky, difficult journey but you’re left with very little option. A man from the room you’re currently camped outside tells you that he can help you cross if you give him £2000. With the last bit of hope you can muster, you give him everything you and my family have left.
You look down the corridor, past the flood, it looks calm and peaceful. You swallow your fear and keep going with your family, reassuring them all will be well when you make it to the other side. You have never been to this part of the house due to the security guards heavily guarding the doors in this area. You don’t know it at all, but you’ve heard good things about it. The crossing is rough, but somehow you manage to make it, your children hungry, cold and traumatised.
You hug your children close and tell them not to worry, everything will be fine, you are safe now, You knock on the first door of this new part of the house. Someone opens it and you smile and greet him nervously. The man chases you away from the door with a bat, telling you to go back to your own room! Your children are terrified, you run and run until you reach the next door, praying someone here will help you? You knock, and as the door opens you see a lavish dinner party going on inside, the tables laden with food. Your daughters haven’t eaten for 4 days. You swallow your pride and ask for some leftovers. The people at the door turn you away in disgust as if you are somehow inferior to them, as if you did something wrong. You don’t understand…
When you reach the next door, it is slightly ajar so you sneak in. You feel guilty, having never committed a crime before, but you are ready to do anything to protect your family and give them some sort of future. This looks like the only way. You hide yourselves in the toilet, the conditions are bad, and it makes your daughters ill with infection. Life was so great in your room before the fire, you never would have expected to be living in this way.
The occupants of the room soon find you crammed into the small toilet. They tell you they will tolerate you here. You make life in the toilet as nice as you know how to. You put flowers outside the door and hang your daughter’s artwork on the walls. You build a little area for your children to learn in and spend hours with them learning the language of the new room that you’re in, sometimes with the help of some kind residents of the room who regularly come and visit.
One day the boss of the room changes his mind and gives you one hour to leave the toilet. He makes these demands from his comfy bed in the very spacious room, and gives you no alternative or time to think of a plan. There are many empty beds inside his room but he doesn’t care. You beg him to let you stay in the toilet but it’s no use. Within the hour, he sends his brothers into the toilet, with sticks and tear gas and they beat you and your children. Seeing them suffer like this breaks your heart.
You hang around in the corridor, finding corners to camp in at night. By day, you wander them aimlessly, wondering what you did to deserve this life, and what the others, in these comfortable room did to deserve theirs. You slowly watch as your children starve, whilst you listen to the laughter behind the closed doors where people eat and dance and sing. Your children’s faces grow more and more vacant as the life slips out of them. Will we all die out here in these corridors?
How can we all live in one house, a house where one family can go through hell whilst other families live in luxury, as if neither that hell nor its occupants exist. How can people ignore the cries of their fellow housemates? We were all born in this house…
Thank you to Shah Lalon Amin and Nel Hargrave for inspiring this version.
Beautiful photos of the Calais Jungle by 5ftinf