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Thoughts from Calais by PLAY 4 CALAIS volunteer Will Hartley
Update posted by Alix Wilton Regan On Mar 03

I’m feeling a cold anger within. I have just visited the ‘Jungle’ – a ‘Migrants/Refugee Camp’ in Calais. I did little enough while I was there. Took a little girl – Narika – who had a dangerously high temperature (accompanied by her mother) and a man, Zakir, who needed stitches on his hand, to hospital. I took dried fruit around; a Sudanese man smiled, and handed me a slice of fresh orange, inviting me into his home – a blue tarpaulin, stretched over some wood. One of the more sturdy structures there. The orange he gave to me probably had more nutrition than the packet of dried fruit I gave him, and where everything is scarce, and everything is precious, it was a simple gift, an act of humanity, that really touched me.

As I walked around the camp, people would smile, nod, invite me into their tents. They appreciate the help, the gesture – the fact that someone, in this cold hard world, is trying, even a little, to help. And it is cold. A freezing wind whistles through the camp. I, in my jacket with two zips, my jumper, my long johns, my two pairs of socks, was freezing whilst standing by the generator, whilst in a tent a group of mothers and children sat watching Cinderella. I can’t imagine how cold the boy with no socks or gloves, and no jacket, was. Or, in fact, I can. I just don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think of his numb fingers as he shivers at night, never being able to get warm. I don’t want to think about him not being able to feel his feet as he trudges to the trough – yes, a trough; like the one pigs eat out of – to get some water.

Distressed boys roam around in feral packs, on the verge of anger and violence. Frustrated teenagers dealt an awful hand by life. More than that. Abandoned, betrayed, isolated. They have nothing. Everything they once had has been taken away, everything they have now could be taken away at any moment; everything is uncertain. They live on the edge of desperation. And yet, there is community. As two boys fight, five boys pull them apart and give them comfort. As a boy screams, and throws rocks, a volunteer, patient as a saint, will let him, then draw him close for a hug. A bit of human contact for a boy who has lost anything.

As I stood by the car, two boys offered me 500 pounds to let them get in the boot, and take them across to England. I wish I had done it. I said no, and I knew what was going through their minds, almost as if they had said it. Their eyes held volumes. ‘You want to help? Get me out of this sub-human slum, where we are looked at with mistrust and hatred, where we are penned in by hard-eyed police in armour. Get me out. Don’t show me a film, or give me some bread, or give me a jacket. Give me a chance. Let me have one opportunity – let me have an opportunity to live somewhere I can stop worrying about dying of cold, of contracting a fatal disease, of wondering if I’ll eat again. Give. Me. A. Chance. To. Live. Like. A. Human.’

On the walls is graffiti – ‘we are human’, ‘we have rights you know?’, ‘#MoreThanARefugee’. They would be forgiven for thinking the world disagrees. Do we treat them like humans? Do we respect their rights? Do we think of them as anything more than a refugee?

Zakir, the human man from Afghanistan whom I sat with in the hospital, told me his story. His mother, sister, and cousins, were all killed by Daesh. He walked, with his other cousin, to France. Walked. To France. From Afghanistan. At the Iranian border he saw 20 people killed when an Iranian policeman shot out the tyres of their vehicle. We shared a sandwich and he taught me some Pashtu; I’m especially pleased he taught me the word for ‘wolf’. I had tried to explain the phrase, ‘keep the wolf from the door’, without knowing the words for ‘wolf’, ‘door’, ‘from’, ‘keep’ ‘the’ ‘away’, or ‘from’. I definitely didn’t succeed, but he taught me the words for ‘door’ and ‘wolf’, and wrote them down on a scrap of paper I had. And then he told me of the dogs who scavenge around the ‘Jungle’ camp – his home.

The place he had walked five months to get to, and where, today, they have sent in riot police, stopped volunteers going in, and, armed with rubber bullets and water cannons, are destroying these people’s – these people who have found a bit of community, and a bit of safety amid terror and trauma – these people’s homes.

Zakir, and Narika, and the Sudanese man with the orange, and the boy with no socks, are but some of the people I met. Just a few of the 6000 people there, each with unique stories of hope, humour, and courage, and the casual evil of a system which is turning a blind eye to them, and their essential humanity.

It is not ‘The Jungle’. It is not ‘A Migrants’ Camp’. It is a place where People – Human Beings – have fled to; fled from family members being murdered, from houses being burned because a loved one is gay, fleeing from being killed for being HIV positive. It is a place where volunteers with beautiful spirit are desperately trying to supply basic needs to other human beings. And it is being destroyed. Please, read about it. Help if you can, in any small way. I for one am heartbroken, and underneath it all is a cold, cold, fury.

Will Hartley

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