For well over a year I have been visiting ‘The Jungle” in Calais. My blogs tell of my anguish at first hand witnessing the hardship suffered by so many who were there. They tell of me ‘coming in from the cold’ and my life forever being changed for the better by my experiences with so many of the refugees. That in turn changed so much of what I did and how I went about doing things in Ashfield and everywhere else. Through these refugees found a deep sense of connection that will forever enrich my life.
These blogs tell of how I met Clare and how over time her work grew and developed into the ‘Care4Calais’ organisation she now runs.
My previous blogs were entitled
7th October, 2016
12th October, 2016
27th October, 2016
In January 2017 I visited Calais again to see for myself what had actually happened there during and after the closure. As always I’ve learned to go by myself and look for myself. That is because so many vested interests have an interest in putting a spin on things and I like to see and report for myself. I am writing this from the perspective of witnessing a train arrive and a squad of armed police with dogs and security guards swooping down on it as they seem to do with every train or bus arrival and whisk off what seemed to me to be a not very tall, skinny, late teenage, early 20’s boy; all dark face and wide eyes encased in a fur lined jacket. He was led off into a paddy-wagon, I stood close so they knew I was watching and so wouldn’t abuse him
That is France 2017.
So here’s what I found:-
The French authorities have been very effective in convincing the world that the “problem” of refugees in the jungle in Calais has been sorted, when in fact it hasn’t.
When the jungle was bulldozed, the refugees there were essentially dispersed. That meant the small groups in which they were moving were much easier to deal with than one large congregation of 12,000 people. What you find now around the Calais area are small groups of people and individuals struggling to survive. They may live in tents hidden away from everyone else. What the police do when they come across small groups is arrest them and then they have whole range of decisions they can make. Quite often they return the refugees back to their country of origin where the very country and dictatorship that tortured them receive them back. Many families are scattered and it’s quite obvious “nobody seems to care”. Many of the groups are of six or seven people. Clare tells me there is a shortage of coats and warm clothing. People are sleeping in fields and forests. Many are too scared to put tents up because the tents are visible and so they sleep in sleeping bags often in cold and amongst the snow. At times here at night it can get below minus six or seven.
What Clare is after mostly is water and sleeping bags. Care4Calais knows of refugees being taken back to Sudan to the very torture they tried to get away from. No one is quite sure what has happened to the 2,000, many unaccompanied children who were in the jungle. What we would like to do is set up a big centre for these kids outside of the system. There is a state orphanage but the kids keep running away from it as it doesn’t meet their needs and being state run is not trusted.
Clare and her team had collected over 1,000 phone numbers of refugees to follow them up and see where they went, were taken and what happened to them. She hoped this follow up ringing could be done by volunteers regularly ringing the refugees and finding out where they were. This ringing would have to be done quite often because refugees and mobile phones change often. The phones get lost, stolen, borrowed and their owners moved on. It’s been a few months since Clare initiated this program but there has not been enough volunteers to keep it working.
The numbers of volunteers helping Clare as the government propaganda wound up to say the crisis was over and that the refugees are not around here anymore, dropped dramatically.
This is obviously not true as there are still many refugees around as the intense police presence and activity demonstrates.
However, Clare told me although she has fewer volunteers, they are actually of a higher quality than the volunteers she had before.
I was enormously impressed with her volunteers and took a number of photos including one of an English teacher from Wales and a science teacher working on getting refugees settled. They both had volunteered to help because they felt that neither the British Government nor the French Government were doing enough.
I find the whole situation here desperately sad and in a way quite dangerous. Clare says many have died in the cold and many of the young children have suicided. Of course it’s hard to back all this up because of the government propaganda. Many times she says to me that she feels like she is doing this all on her own.
Calais does not look to be a very good situation at all.
As usual, the major NGO’s are conspicuous by their absence as there’s no money in it and they’re anxious not to occur the anger of any government.
Clare is despairing because she feels we have gone backwards in our treatment of refugees and the work is very hard and non-ending. She was most upset because she got a comment on her Facebook which said “you can go on all you like about this, but would you put them in your own home?” Claire’s response was “Of course I would, I’d take all of them”.
England, the country of my birth has a lot to answer for, as it is deplorable behaviour in not taking in the number of unaccompanied refugee children it promised to.
I walk out of the container Clare and others use as an office and into the first of the several huge storerooms she has obtained. A few months ago when I was here it was full of volunteers, now there are only two, just quietly working away. Over in the other storeroom the volunteers are testing out each of the donated tents before they give them to the refugees to make sure there are no holes in them.
The French and British governments would like us to believe it is all over but the reality is, it may only be just beginning.
Messages received from Bill while travelling on Viber:-
Just left Paris on the train to Calais. I’m meeting with Clare there today to work with the refugees and get a picture of what’s happened in ‘The Jungle’ was bulldozed. I’m meeting with David Miliband of the International Rescue Committee on Friday and people from Aspen Medical, hopefully in London tomorrow to begin to put a package together to really help these poor devils.
The scenes I see here just fill me with tears. Police with guns and dogs waiting at bus stops and train stations detaining and questioning frightened youths mainly male and coloured who are refugees on the move. They take them and detain them and either move them on or deport them back to the country where they were tortured. I just watched them take away a “boy” really. He looked so small in his large jacket. They put him in the van and took him away. I made sure they knew I was watching every move they made.
Just talking to two young Eritrean boys. No papers. Very polite just lovely young boys really. We’re giving them survival stuff. Trying to get to England. They are really sincere and lovely. My blood is boiling inside with the wrongs that are being done here
I’m meeting lots of lovely people who hang out at these places and try and get to these people before the police and give them help
These refugees talk with the wide eyes of those who have nothing to lose.
It’s soooo cold here. It seeps into your bones. My face has no feeling at time and my hands ache
I can’t get over the quality of the volunteers here. Most have come to make a difference. They heard about the suffering here and have come to help. Being here changed them. They begin to question everything. Morals, values because they begin to see how upside down our society is. How unfair it is. So there’s a sadness here too as they, day upon day see how inhuman we humans can be to each other, particularly the vulnerable. It’s reflected in their bodies, particularly their eyes. They come here naive and are battle hardened. How much they go out of their way for the refugees in incredible. So many of the refugees have been tortured
Whilst I was there Clare managed to sit down and write a report on all that was happening there, past and present. It’s not totally finished with all numbers etc and knowing Clare it’s all I’m going to get as life is so difficult.
You can get a copy by contacting me at [email protected]
It is not only happening in France.