This morning many of our friends and restaurant owners from the Calais Jungle went to court to fight for their businesses.
One of them is Samir, owner of Welcome restaurant, the place our team always heads to the minute we enter the camp. Wallhangings and flags decorate the walls and the vibe is welcoming and friendly to everyone, of every nationality. We often find ourselves sitting around the table, on mismatched chairs, eating with friends from all over the world, refugees, volunteers, everybody together.
Last time we were there, Samir proudly showed us some decking he was building out the back, overlooking the lake. Samir is an entrepreneur, a positive and inspiring example of someone making the best out of the difficult hand he has been dealt.
A few weeks ago police raided his restaurant. They smashed his TV and took all his food, they poured his oil on the floor and pulled his Afghan flag from the wall, they even smashed his eggs.
This is Samir’s testament for today’s court hearing:
“The restaurants are important for the people because the people are coming here.
Before, when the restaurants were open, people were coming here to eat, for the food, for gathering, to charge their phones, and watching television, and talking to each other with friends. So these are very important things.
Another thing is it is a safe place as well, because sometimes outside, if there is any fighting the people they come in to save themselves.
And the second thing is about the shops. When the shops were open, the people who need any of the necessary things, the people were going to take the things from the shops so easily. So phone cards, the calling cards, the necessary stuff, any stuff.
Now, it is too difficult for the people, because the people are going to take this stuff form the supermarkets. So there, in the supermarket, in some supermarkets, the security men are asking for the ID. So some people, they are going to have trouble there.
This is too bad for the French people, and for the refugees as well. It’s a big problem.
And the third problem is the shower. When the hairdressers were open, the people were going there to cut their hair and take a shower there. It’s easy, and there’s a clean shower there. And now the hairdressers and shops are closed, so people are going to take the shower in Salam, but there’s a long huge queue. So the people, they have to wait for two hours, three hours there, and then later there is not enough water to take a shower there, so that’s a big problem.
And so the next problem is for their food, at the distribution centres, there is not enough food.
Before, some people were eating in restaurants, now all the people are going to the distribution centres to take their food there, but there’s not enough food for the people. That’s one thing.
And the second thing is the people are waiting a lot. I mean two hours, three hours to take the food there. When they reach to take the food there, the food is not enough, and then the people are getting angry and they are fighting with each other because there is a lot of people here. Different communities of people who can’t understand each other, so that’s the problem.
That’s why everyone wants to open the restaurants and the shops. They are really important for everyone.”
Today the French Government went to court to argue that the food provided in restaurants like Welcome Restaurant is unsanitary and that the owners do not pay taxes or comply to heath and safety measures. These reasons would be laughable if they were not so heartbreakingly unjust. Whilst the Calais Jungle remains to be recognised as an official refugee camp, the government provides no electricity, no medical care, no official registration and very little else. The entire camp, in it’s very nature, is a breach of human rights let alone health and safety. How can people pay taxes when their entire existence is deemed as ‘illegal?’
We will hear the verdict of the court case on Friday.
Whatever happens, will continue to fight for the dignity of our friends in the camp, and refuse to sit back and watch as the authorities repeatedly attempt to demolish not just what little refugees have and own, but also their human spirit.