On the 10th and 11th of September I'm going to cycle the 167km circuit around Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) to raise money for Care4Calais, an amazing charity providing continuing aid and support to thousands of refugees. At the beginning of summer I spent two weeks volunteering in the Jungle, the makeshift camp in Calais that over 9000 people are currently calling home, and I haven't been able to get it out of my mind ever since.
The conditions in camp are heartbreaking and the people living there have already endured the most horrific experiences, having escaped wars, genocides, and witnessed the deaths of family members. Around 600 of the camp residents are unaccompanied children, totally alone without any family to take care of them. The youngest of these children is just 7 years old.
The people living in the Jungle are refugees. The have been forced to leave their home to escape being killed, tortured or persecuted in other unimaginable ways, Some of the stories that people shared with me brought me to tears. They were forced to leave behind the lives and countries they once loved, and have found themselves stranded in the Jungle. I heard people's dreams of rebuilding their lives, listened to their business plans, and how they hoped to finish their education in safety without fearing being shot at on the way to school or university. This was something that really hit home with me, I also left my country at 19, but the huge difference is that I left as an immigrant, not a refugee.
When I left the UK it was 100% my choice. I am an immigrant. Call me an expat if you like, but I am a legal immigrant thanks to my British passport, and I have been encouraged and supported to live in different countries for the last 7 years. I definitely did not leave my country fearing for my life, but yet I was welcomed and offered jobs, and given opportunities to build a life for myself in a country that is not my own. The unfairness of it all makes me incredibly sad.
The worst thing is the suffering continues in Calais. Human traffickers are exploiting the situation and regularly putting people's lives at risk. Police violence is evident everywhere and the most basic human rights are being abused and ignored. Tear gas canisters scatter the ground in and around the camp, there are signs of excessive force being used and beatings are a regular occurrence, but yet often go unreported because of a fear it will affect asylum claims.
So the plan is to hopefully raise a little bit of money to help Care4Calais continue with their amazing work providing clothes, food, and tents to the camp, and hopefully avoid any doing permanent damage to myself whilst doing it!