“I’ve been invited to play football with refugee children in the Jungle at Calais. You wanna come with me?”
As an opener it was classic Dave Morrissey. His laconic Scouse drawl had a way of making the most outlandish suggestion sound like the most eminently reasonable thing in the world. “Why not?” I blurted back before I could think of anything more sensible. I’d met Dave on a job more than 15 years ago and we’d been through a lot together since, mainly via football - from Film Industry 6-a-side football to Champions League Finals. His invitations were quite often unexpected, usually with a modicum of madness but never without adventure.
In truth the calendar was empty and I was curious. Knowing he probably needed my superior football knowledge and ability, I didn’t even tell him I’d only just had an operation on my knee either. WhatsApp messages were dispatched, Twitter was exercised and before you know it Dave, myself, my brother Ade and old mate Ralf Little (actor, writer, professional gobshite) found ourselves on the 6.50am Eurostar from St. Pancras International bound for Calais.
Two coffees and one long tunnel later we met Alix Wilton Regan – actress and founder of Play4Calais, a non political organisation committed to provide fun activities for the children in the Jungle. Alix gave us a brief history place and its 6000 inhabitants - where they’d originally come from, why they were fleeing and some of the many challenges they’d faced getting this far. She also pointed out the ever-increasing layers of razor wire (courtesy of the UK Government) and how to avoid antagonising the aggressive French security guards. Not without a hint of apprehension we got out of the cars, donned our high visibility charity tabards and headed for the camp itself.
I’d been to Soweto in the early ’90s and it looked very much like what I remembered of that if a little less permanent for obvious reasons. Lots of makeshift homes hammered, stapled, and in some cases taped together. Wood, plastic, corrugated iron, old caravans, tents, tarpaulin – anything to provide a dry place to sleep for you and the family. An old double decker bus doubling as the women’s centre had been crowd funded by the actress Juliet Stevenson and we met Liz Clegg there, a tough, no nonsense, surrogate mum to the many orphaned children. Permanently ‘doing’ stuff either in person or on her battered and cracked phone, Liz was a formidable, inspiring presence corralling her helpers to ensure the safety of those in her care. By the time we’d left that corner of the camp Ralf was already on the blower to his ‘double decker’ contact finding out how much second hand ones cost. The urge to help – in any way we could - was palpable.
As we wandered through slowly down the main ‘street’ of the camp past barbers, restaurants and general stores I was struck by two things. Firstly what kind of circumstances must have driven anyone to choose to come and live here? I felt positive that the desperately basic sanitation facilities, rubbish everywhere, clothes strewn as far as the eye can see (if you can’t wash them what else is there to do with dirty clothes?) and wildlife as keen to survive as the human beings would certainly test the resolve of all but the most dedicated economic migrant.
But there was also a tangible sense of pride and dignity in this small but tightly knit international community. As they realised we had come to try and help, rather than take exploitative photographs like some of the UK national press, smiles broke out, conversation began to flow and we were made warmly welcome. I began to notice colourful slogans daubed everywhere highlighting the refugees cause and celebrating their creativity.
Was it all a bit unnerving too? Of course. I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t initially clung onto my rucksack a little tighter as the locals approached. But the looks of enjoyment on the teenage lads faces when the football tournament began made any concerns disappear quickly enough. Part of the issue, mainly because the women and children in the camp rightly have to be the priority for carers and charities alike is that the young boys just don’t have enough to do to keep them out of trouble. Activities like theatre or cinema or sport in this case can make a big difference. Some goalposts, a proper pitch and perhaps most importantly of all - equipment (trainers and kit) help make the players feel special. People laughed, cheered, argued with the referee (well, Ade & Ralf did) and celebrated victories like any other kids playing the game they loved.
As our time drew to a close we had a delicious meal at a restaurant we’d promised to return to while Alix and friends told us more stories about the charity’s hopes for the future. It had been a long but hugely rewarding day and as we boarded the Eurostar we all vowed that this wouldn’t be the end of our involvement in Play4Calais. We exchanged photos and chatted about how else we could continue raise awareness about the plight of the people we’d encountered. Hopefully in our own small ways - with interviews, social media crusades or pieces like this, that’s what we’ve all managed to do.
Simon Lenagan, May 2016
Here's a great way to donate exactly what's needed to people who need it right now (we know because we asked them!):
If you want to provide essentials for the refugees, plus a few little luxuries to help make their lives in the camp a little more bearable, then you can buy directly from these lists and we will take them over to Calais:
WOMEN @ PLAY 4 CALAIS: http://amzn.to/23gvBvh
Boys @ PLAY 4 CALAIS: http://amzn.to/21bXJ2Z
GIRLS (2-8) @ PLAY 4 CALAIS: http://amzn.to/1ru0915
Thank you, people of the world – you're amazing! xx
We are extremely proud to share this beautiful 2 minute film by artist Simon Panrucker about PLAY 4 CALAIS building of a football pitch in the Calais Jungle.
Thank you all for watching and sharing this magical mini-piece of art and for being a light in the dark for refugees.
PLAY 4 CALAIS
PS: If you would like to support our ongoing football initiatives with refugees, please note that our fundraising page is now permanently open. Thank you.
Last weekend, I went for a whirlwind visit to the refugee camp in Calais to document the first games on a sandy football pitch that my pals Sammy and Tommy at PLAY 4 CALAIS had created. The day was great fun, many people - mostly teenagers - played football and had a smile on their faces. I met so many interesting people my head is spinning...
I met young people around 15 years of age who had walked for 5 months to get to the camp. Most of them have no family left.
I met a 17 year old from Ethiopia who took great interest in my camera and told me about the films him and his friends used to make. Now he’s in a refugee camp in Calais with no idea what to do.
I met a guy who told me that he was in the under 17s football team back home. They were doing very well in the league, he says they were the best team… But he had to leave. He was glad to play some football again.
I met a professional cricket player from Afghanistan who was hopeful they’d build a cricket pitch too.
There were engineers, restaurant owners, hairdressers, journalists, midwives, lawyers, economists.
I heard of people who had worked in government jobs and had to flee because the Taliban are capturing all people with ties to the government.
I met a guy from Iran who was a freelance journalist. He was writing an expose on prostitution within the Islamic Church, and had started talking with newspapers about publishing the article. One night he was going to interview prostitutes on the streets of Iran when he got arrested and put in jail. The police did not have enough evidence to detain him, but he knew he was a marked man and would surely lose his freedom or his life should he remain in Iran. He has been in the Jungle for several months.
I was taken into the shack of a bunch of teenage boys who were drinking beer and singing songs. They sang with gusto and joy, loudly clapping and cheering. At the end, two members of the group pleaded with us for more alcohol. These bright, welcoming, friendly kids are already gripped by alcoholism due to the desperation of their situation and the trauma of whatever happened to them that led to them being at the camp. They need safety, stability, security.
The thing I’m most shocked about is the fact that there are around 400 unaccompanied minors in the camp. 150 of them have a legal right to be in the UK as they have family already residing there. It is international law to help minors in this situation, but the French and UK governments are taking their sweet time about it, while these kids live in desperate and unsafe conditions, and are increasingly going missing. Toddlers and primary school aged kids. Citizens UK recently managed to get 15 of these kids reunited with their families, but there are so many more.
I saw a boy half heartedly kicking a football around on a mound of dirt, surrounded by remnants of destroyed shacks. All of his friends had made it across to the UK the previous week and he was alone again.
Every night the kids and teenagers walk to the port to “try”. This is what they call trying to get across to the UK. You can’t claim for asylum in the UK unless you are in the UK. So they have to get there illegally, dangerously first, in order to live there legally. Many of these kids speak English, or at least a bit. They all want to learn. They all want to be safe. They want to build a life and a future. So every night they go and try to find a way to get across. I heard a story that just the night before one of the kids had paid a smuggler (he’d saved up money) to take him to the UK. The smuggler drove him out to the middle of nowhere, held him up at gunpoint, took his money, and left him. He walked back to camp and told his friends the story while laughing. They’re used to it now. Used to that or getting caught by the police, knocked around, and sent back to camp.
These are kids, teenagers, adults, who were happily living in a situation like mine or yours. Getting on with school, or their jobs, or whatever. And their lives have been taken away by war, oppression, fear, violence. Some of them have seen their family killed in front of them. And they find themselves at the camp, desperate, hopeful of a chance to have a normal life again, to contribute to society, to have purpose, to have stability and safety and build a future.
Everywhere I walked in the camp, or while I was just watching the football, people approached me and said hello, asked how I was, openly and warmly. I was bowled over by how welcoming and friendly everyone was.
We were given a tour of the camps by a guy called Abdul - a very gentle man - who had recently applied for asylum in France. It would be around two months before he would hear whether he was successful or not. Two more months living in the camp, with a chance he’d be denied asylum. And then what? Where? His 16 year old friend was wearing a blue football scarf and clutching his “My First French Book” - desperate to learn in case that’s where he’d end up.
These people just want to get on with their lives but they are stuck in a weird limbo. Many of them have been there for several long months, in some cases over a year.
It’s a half society: they’ve built shacks which house restaurants and schools and bars and hairdressers and a library, to try and continue with a sense of normality. As the French government proved by brutally ripping down and bulldozing the south part of the camp just a few weeks ago, this could be taken away at any moment. I can’t imagine how it must feel to find yourself at your last resort - not knowing whether that last resort will be taken from you as well. What comes after the last resort?
I want more decisive and determined action to be taken by both the UK and the French government in getting these people housed and safe, able to start contributing to society and building lives for themselves and their families. I want this action to be taken immediately, especially for the children and young people in the camp who are needlessly, pointlessly, shamefully at risk. I want people in the UK to see these people as human beings who have had their lives taken from them. I want us to act with compassion and generosity.
The charities I came into contact there are as follows, if you’d like to investigate ways to contribute:
We want to acknowledge each and everyone one of you that's donated to our campaign thus far. If you see your name below it's because ***you've officially been made a PLAY 4 CALAIS Superstar***! CONGRATULATIONS ON BEING A PLAY 4 CALAIS SUPERSTAR! YAY!
If you have supported us but your name has been forgotten or mistyped it's most likely because Alix hasn't had enough coffee today and is being a bit forgetful... Or did you write your name down as "Anonymous" on our page? Hmmmm? Either way, please let us know and we will add you to our Superstar list hasta pronto!
Our love and thanks to you all for your belief in creating a better world for refugees,
The PLAY 4 CALAIS Team x
THE PLAY 4 CALAIS SUPERSTARS ARE...Paul Harrison; Rosie Cross; Caroline Gaskin; Kate Jacobs; Howard Cortlett; Arif Haq; Alexander Haley; Jamie Freedman; Jo Pickard; Micheal Young; Max Pickwoad; James Veitch; Sophie Holborow; Julian Simpson; Becca Rimmer; Nigel Doylerush; Maria Dallow; Matthew Butler; Pieter Meiring; Clarissa Jacobs; Marc Samuelson; Ed Hall; Amy Flaye; Sally Long; Carin Von Drehle; Peter Marouf Jacobsen; Rebecca Budds; Hilary Keane; Francesca Dolby; Sophie Henderson; Emma Woolerton; Abdulkareem AlSamin; Paul Thompson; Rory Taylor; Eric Anderson; Gareth @ Lenyx; Richard Oxland; William Ellis; Kimbarley Farley; JD Kelleher; Sylvia Pounds; Adrian Dalingwater; Lucy Fazey; Lucy K Shaw; Tawny Kerr; Susie Uppal; Angela Bull; Holly Perry; Andy Regan; Grandma and Grandpa Regan; Mohammed Rizwan; Bill Kulhanek; Stephan Bauer; Katya White; Lisa Whylie; Peter Harmer; JC Bateman; Jon Barrenechea; Crispin Best; Simon Panrucker; Robin Williams; T.V. ; Dane Wowdane; Bryony Rumble; Jennifer Waldo; Dominic Self; Jen Jarvis; Beth Collins; Emma Bell; Randi Lawrence; Penny Best; Alex Oliver; Nashira Martinez; Che Thomas; Rydian Cook; Lewis Wickwar; Andy Jenkin; Naomi Rose; Ian Thomas; Frances Harvey; Carl Peck; Pippa Best; Alexandra Cameron; Rosa M. Oliver; Louisa de Albuquerque; Gilly Self; Damien Feuille; Sofia Wesselmark; Vali Fayen; Nicole Tripp; Nicholas Moran; Helen Roe; Sahar Meghami; Row Baker; Rozalind Gold; Andi Rondestvedt; Lamisha Serf-Walls; Pauline Vernon; Samuel Newton; Morgan Kennedy; Claiborne Mitchell; Sara Gilmour; Hannah Ward; Jonathan Lifschutz; Sarah Irwin; Silvana Montoya; Claire Perry; Barbara Walsh; Katie Ditchfield; "Beelady" Girard; Morgan Brigland; Sarah Berger; Bill Barclay; Mark O'Sullivan; Jill Chapman; Carolyn Regan; Sally Wilton; Blandine Lamaison; Karl Fordeman; Nicholas Pullen; Sally Markowska; Jonathan Pryce; Phoebe Fox; Ian Kerridge; Oscar Mendez Fernandez; Hannah Purnel; Tea Patovaara; Roger Youman; Ben Blaine; Aude Swan; Nat Stachowski; Sophie O'Connor; Marco Shade; Nichola Loftus; Karume Deco; John Turner; Katie Self; Eleanor Morton; Irene Maffei; Helen Dix; Natasha Dyer; Alexandra Aninoui; Marc Bacon; Emma Bailey; Sarah Rappaport; Johnny Aldred; Katty Grassi; Nicole Albarelli; Chrystal Genesis; Tom Worth; Jon Campling; Alix Wilton Regan; Adam Lannon; Sammy Patterson; Liz McMullen; Caroline Phillips; Rami Ali; Sulaiman Sulaimani; Pat O'Reilly; Jack Hawkins; Jade Guishard; Rosalind Boulton; Will Hartley; Victoria Secretan; Sara Luysterborg; Hilary Keane; Elisalex de Castro Peake; Carol Hodge; Alex Lifschutz; Natasha Ross; Emma Heap; Caroline Weller; Stephan Bauer; Sophie Lifschutz; Richard Keightley; Natasha Ross; Amy Hubbard; Caroline Weller; Sheila Adam and John; Lauren Elkin; Gita Malhorta; EMA Textiles; AnyVan.com; Melvin Ross and Emma Ross-Field; Monique Charlesworth; Teresa Graham; Claire Adams; Allison Harper; Jessie Cave; Natasha Self; All @ The Lexi Cinema; All @ The Nomad; All @ L.D.S Architects; Steve Allen; Hannah Vernon; Karl and Sabine; Stephen Follows; Felix and Efua Aremo; Natalie Hall; Jackie Freedman; Noha Nasser; Kyle Crampton; Ivana Basic; Julie Thomas; Frank Ayres; Rosie Greatorex; Sophie Brandon; Jenny Chapman; Bob Pipe; Frankie Mitchell; Maddy Biddulph; Ed Eales-White; Nat Luurtsena; Russell Simpson; Ben Van der Velde; Lisa M. ; Harriet Matheson; Clive Aldred; Christine Lapidge; Janie Eastoe; Ian Thomas; Justina Perry; Sarah Clare Wilson; KKP; Nashira Martinez; Mane Sanchez; Claude Grewal-Sultze; Cath Collins; Penelope Aldred; Jayne Waters; Niamh Kennedy Fletcher; Tim Hutton; Damien Feuille; Nina Von Dem Bursche; Penelope Casadesus; Mel Exon; Laura Debole; Abby Drucker; Igor Aleksander; Afrikah83 Chitoufya; Ian Kerridge; Camilla Avery; Darren Port; Simon Gray; Ahd Tamini; Gabrielle Lorenz; David Watson; Kellye Curtis; Simon Panrucker; Alasdair Neil; Seb Mel; Sara Verhagen; Lesley Morgan; Susan Key; Jenny Boulton; Stephen O'Toole; Che Thomas; Andy Jenkin; Alicia Lopez Rios; Frances Harvey; Lexy Mostaza; Alex Oliver; Louisa De Albuquerque; Rebecca Key; Rebecca Perry; Amy Key; Charlotte Watson; Athene Parker; Marie Guingouain; Caroline Newte Hardie; Kyle Crampton; David Watson; Charlotte Colbert; Natasha Ali; Denise Hicks; Austin Hardiman; Shehnaz O'Mallie; Jane Furniss; Claire Lemaire; Robert Benfield; Peter Mail; Sam Cox; Ryan Winters; Celeste Kennedy Doig; Liam Hutton; Remi Phillips; Rosie Cross; Sofia Lucarelli; Cal O'Neill; Oli Ingram; Lyle Moxsom; Jude Wheway; Rydian Cook; Bryony Rumble; Andrej Sosnowski; Claude Grewal-Sultze; Natalie Eisa; Dr. Azadeh Rippert; Asta Parry; Rob and Rachel Benson; Felicity McDougall; Beverly Louwerse; Alison Pope; Antonia Galindo; Che Thomas; Andrew Bloss; Rose Frater... and the hundred other big hearted "Anonymous" donors out there. Xx
Dear Generous Supporters
We wanted to share a little love, insight and thanks as to how PLAY 4 CALAIS have spent your money to date.
Since launching in late December 2015, PLAY 4 CALAIS have been over to the Jungle eight times! At the time of writing we've raised £8,550.00 and here is how and where that money has made a difference...
December 2015 was the biggest trip to date. We screened 5 films over 4 days and reached roughly 400 adults and 100 children in the process. We took six volunteers and one interpreter, we also had two cars for transport and took one MASSIVE truck stocked to the brim with clothes and toys to donate to the Calais Warehouse, right before Christmas. As such, this trip cost £3,208.83.
In February 2016 we did another 4 day trip to the Calais Jungle. This time we took 6 volunteers and 3 cars across to France, erected our cinema 4 times for 6 different screenings in 4 days, screened to approximately 200 adults, 50 teenage boys and 200 children in the process. As previously, we took vital supplies of blankets, clothes and kitchen utensils to the Calais Warehouse for distribution and stocked up on baby formula and baby wipes for the Women & Children's Centre to hand out whilst we were there. This trip cost £1,610.84.
We recently did another 48hr-cinema-screening-trip where we screened 4 films over 2 days to a demographic of 60 children under 12 years and 50 teenage boys aged roughly 12-18 years. This trip cost £415.80.
FIVE AID DELIVERIES:
In addition to the above, we've done five aid drops to the tune of £395.61. These were large-scale aid-focused initiatives where we delivered 5 car loads of donations, including over £17,000 worth of unworn children's winter clothing, to the Calais Warehouse. One of our (and the children's!) favourite trips was when we turned the top-deck of their Women & Children's Centre Bus into a cinema, complete with silken pink tabs and fairy lights :)
For the upcoming Football Project from the 12th-16th April we have already spent £720.51 getting our core-volunteers across to France. On top of this, £250 has gone into an emergency kitty for the team to have access to whilst in Calais and we have pledged a further £1000 to running the project on it's launch day in late April, where we hope to take 10 football savvy aid workers to the Jungle to help establish this as an ongoing initiative. We need to raise a total of £2,000 before the 16th April to make this happen.
At the time of writing we've fundraised £8,550.00 and we've spent £7,601.59. We have £948.41 left in The PLAY 4 CALAIS "Kitty" and we have a list as long as our arm from the Women & Children's Centre asking for basic luxuries such as women's knickers and shampoo for their 200+ users that we hope to supply them with. We've also got requests from the Boys Baloo Youth Centre asking for basics such as shoes and socks, which we believe no child should go without... PLAY 4 CALAIS wants to say yes to all of these requests whilst also establishing our amazing football initiative. With your help we can do all of this and more.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your continued interest in, support of and help with PLAY 4 CALAIS.
One of our newest PLAY 4 CALAIS volunteers, Jack Hawkins, wrote this stunning piece after his trip to The Jungle on Sunday 6th March. Thank you for letting us share it Jack.
"Today I saw children with nothing, no more than the ill-fitting clothes they picked at, shielded by desperate parents collecting anything they could find to make shelter, to make fire, to dig cars out of foot deep crevices of mud. I talked to a man who had been in transit for six years, has spent one year in The Jungle (his brother lives in Southampton with a wife and a child); I saw parents desperate to clothe their cold, scared children, to find shoes that fitted, to get gloves, tights, scarves and hats for them; I saw men joyfully singing as they made do with the so little they have.
I saw despair, humility, pride — communities blossoming out of the less than nothingness of the ground underfoot — I saw so many smiles; so many more than I’ll see when I commute to work this week.
I heard stories of young men so traumatised by the losses they’ve suffered, the horrors they’ve seen, the humiliation, harassment, lack of love, that violence for them is little more than play: a game to set a home on fire, family inside.
I saw so many smiles, so much warmth in the face of so much cold. Where is our compassion, care, respect?
Tonight I came home to my flat, with power, and warmth and a fridge full of food; I came back past police I trust, security I can rely on, enjoying the freedom so many people want, will walk across a continent — children will walk from Afghanistan to the northern French coast (I still haven’t fully absorbed this)— because they want to come here, to live here, like we do, like we are so privileged to do.
They have nothing, and we can help them, with donations to provide food, clothing, humanitarian essentials, all badly needed right now. We can see past the political terminology of ‘refugees’ and see The Jungle as a city of people, a community of educated, intelligent, artistic, creative people who need respite care: entertainment, such as through the great work of Play 4 Calais that takes a pop-up cinema to the camps, and toys, art supplies, paper, writing instruments, books, sports equipment.
Above all we can keep talking about how this has come to pass, that thousands of vulnerable, desperate people, who want no more than what we get as a birthright — want to make a life for themselves and their children, to contribute and live and help their children grow, and play, and learn and one day love.
That’s the word that stood out the most, in the dirt, the now scorched remnants of the recently destroyed sections of the camp, scrawled on walls, painted on the side of caravans, tents, canvases: love."
Thank you so much to Mark Steel for this brilliant piece of satire in today's Independent, featuring PLAY 4 CALAIS - you can read it here below. Alix X
We’re mugs: being gassed in the Calais Jungle is an easy life in Europe
"I’ve often wished removal men would give me a hand by whacking me with truncheons"
In this volatile world, it’s heartwarming to see the effort the French authorities went to this week in demolishing the tents and living quarters of refugees in Calais. Because most of those living in the camp had fled from war zones, it’s a lovely touch for the French to go to such lengths to make the migrants feel they were back home.
Some of the migrants have fled from Isis, so maybe next time the police can drag them into a basement and make a little film of someone standing over them with a sword, so they’ll feel a little tear in their eye and weep, “It’s so good to be reminded of my village.”
The main instruments used to clear the camp in Calais were bulldozers and tear gas – which is fitting, because the lawyer at the hearing in which the demolition was ordered said the reasons for the evacuation were “the dignity and security of the refugees”. Nothing makes you feel more dignified and secure than a cloud of tear gas in the face.
If you want to look smart and dignified for a special occasion, the first thing you do is rub tear gas in your eyes and cover yourself in truncheon bruises. For example, if you had to collect a Nobel Prize, on the way you’d drink a pint of tear gas to make sure you arrived gasping and choking and sicking up black phlegm over the King of Norway so that you beamed like a true beacon of dignity.
One evicted woman was a pregnant Iranian Kurd, who was filmed being batoned and wrestled to the floor, and as she was being handcuffed she must have thought, “After all I’ve been through, it’s a comfort to enjoy a moment of dignity at last.”
But as well as dignity there’s the security, and the French government says they’re moving the refugees to better accommodation, so they’re just helping them along by gassing them, like an enthusiastic branch of Pickfords. Whenever I’ve moved house, I’ve infuriated myself by dawdling and going back indoors to check I’ve not forgotten anything, and often wished the removal men would give me a hand by whacking me with truncheons and snapping my arm in three places.
A spokesman for the French prefecture – the state body that ordered the evacuation – described the event as a “humanitarian intervention”. That makes sense, because when you see CRS riot police gassing refugees as their kids scramble away through the mud, the first thought that comes to mind is: “I bet that’s what Florence Nightingale would have done.” The first area of the camp demolished was the part that contained the health centre and makeshift school – and there’s nothing more humanitarian than knocking down annoying places like that.
The French authorities, however, went the extra mile and demolished a church. Only the truly righteous and holy can claim to be so humanitarian that they demolish a church, especially when it’s a church built by people fleeing from groups that won’t let them have churches. As it says in Matthew Chapter 4 verse 7: “And the people who did flee from the land of Assyria, and hath no homes, did build a church from all that lay around so that they may seek hope in the word of the Lord, and Jesus did come among them and knock the bastard down with a bulldozer.”
It’s no wonder the refugees wish they were in Britain, because here the government would be more subtle and sell the school and church tents to developers, who’d convert them into a block of three-bedroom tents in an estate called Migrant Waters at £600,000 each for Japanese businessmen.
The French government claims the refugees will be housed in containers on lorries provided down the road, but the charity Help Refugees calculates that, even with three in each lorry, they are 2,229 places short for the numbers evicted. They could do what we all have to do when times are hard and be prepared to cut down a little, but so far the migrants have refused to shrink to half their size so they can squeeze twice as many into a lorry, so that’s hardly the fault of the French is it?
The frustrating side to this story is that, despite the efforts of the French to assist the refugees, thousands of people in Britain have tried to spoil things by sending clothes and sleeping bags, and forming groups like Play4Calais, which built a cinema in the camp to show films such as Shaun the Sheep to the children.
But as Welsh Conservative MP David Davies said: “What people are doing in terms of giving aid to people in Calais is really irresponsible.”
I’m sure the refugees agree. They must be thinking: “I wish these idiots would stop clothing us and offering compassion and saving our lives. In times of desperation, your true friend is the canister of tear gas.”
Of course, the last thing this country needs is people like this coming here. To start with, they’re not really refugees. If they’d stayed in Iraq or Somalia or Syria they’d have been killed, which would have reduced their earnings – which proves they’re economic migrants, just trying to get here for financial reasons.
When someone’s drifted across the Mediterranean on a pedalo with their family, and walked through Macedonia and crawled to Calais and lived in a quagmire called the Jungle until they’re gassed by riot police and bundled into a lorry, it’s all too obvious the only reason they’ve come to Europe is for an easy life at our expense. If I want to be tear gassed I have to go and pay for it myself, but they get it for free. We’re mugs, we are. Complete mugs.
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
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.