Sunday…with the Calais Jungle and The Worldwide Tribe

February 28, 2016

Filed Under : collaborations - short poem films - trips - Winter

Photo 27-02-2016, 17 00 50It’s 01:22 am and I’m sitting in my car in a petrol station in Crawley…I’ve filled my car with petrol but there’s a long queue outside in the freezing cold to pay the lone attendant through the hole in the glass window. I’m in my car because the queue of slightly drunk men is really intimidating, and I decide it’s better to stay well out of the way until they’ve loaded up and left…

Two hours before I was at another petrol station in Thornton Heath waiting for Alice to come back with a bottle of water when a man randomly shouted at me through the window and tried to open my car door before I quickly started the car and drove away….

Four hours before, an Afghan man in the Calais Jungle had randomly offered Davorka and me a stack of hot, fresh naan bread he was carrying when he saw us eagerly looking at it…

And an hour before that, I’d been round a small fire with a lovely group of Sudanese men who insisted we sit down on chairs and share a cup of sugary clove tea with them…

I can definitely say I felt more intimidated at a couple of petrol stations in South East England than by anything in The Calais Jungle…

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At the start of this week a group of us who knew each other via Instagram met at my house to knit some warm things for the refugees in Calais and which I could take across and distribute when I got to the Jungle.

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I didn’t know  what to expect at all from my visit, but wanted to be able to at least take something useful, and something which people in the UK, who cared about the refugee situation, could do at home and still feel connected…

I was going to Calais with Davorka ( from @tilly2milly on Instagram ) and Jaz and Jess from @theworldwidetribe. The World Wide tribe does amazing work on the ground at refugee camps and are working incredibly hard to raise awareness of the real situation the refugees are facing at the moment..

Davorka and I wrapped all the knitted hats on the Friday evening and got ready for an early drive to Kent to meet up and travel with Jaz and Jess and another lovely woman, Alice, who also came to the camp with us.

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I plagued Jaz with questions for the whole journey and probably only stopped when we pulled up and parked near The Jungle itself.

My initial surprise was that the camp was so much larger than I had anticipated…I had not anticipated that what The Jungle actually feels like/has a sense of is a small town…

I went to The Jungle not expecting to find something so civilised; something with such order, tolerance and definite community. Yes, it’s muddy and a patchwork of shelters and tents, but it has personality and a sense of humanity, just like any village, and it has all been built up creatively by hand, hope and kindness.

I also went wanting answers to some of those basic questions which people ask and which I didn’t feel fully equipped to answer…

“Why don’t they just accept assylum in France…they’ve been offered it?”

So, very simply, they haven’t in fact been offered asylum in France, they’ve been offered the opportunity to ‘apply’ for asylum. This means that if they stay in France and they apply for asylum and don’t get it, they will be deported back to their own country, for instance as Sudan is not at war, and is instead suffering from ethnic cleansing and genocide, they are less likely to successfully gain asylum, and if they are deported they will almost definitely be arrested on their return and face torture and death for leaving the country.

The people from countries at war may have a better chance of claiming asylum, but as the French authorities point out, it is not something they can guarantee…

“ but don’t they just want to come to the UK for the benefits…I’ve heard them interviewed and that’s what they say”

Well, it depends how  you interpret ‘benefits’…

If you are under the impression that these traumatised people; teachers, lawyers, students, musicians, people who are educated, who have jobs and who have not been living a third world existence out of tents and shelters in their own country, have travelled thousands of miles, lost friends of the back of trucks which didn’t stop to pick them up whilst speeding through the Sahara Desert, been robbed and raped by people traffickers and escaped machete attacks and torture in their hometowns are simply wanting to be in the UK for our state benefits, you have been grossly misinformed.

The benefits these people want from our country are the benefits we should be proud of; they are the benefits of the fairest system available to these people, a system which will not necessarily send them back to certain lifelong misery. They are not after our jobs, handouts and they are not here to frighten us or to try and take over…they simply want to be safe, and the UK offers more safety and fairness, if you make it here, than lots of the other European countries…the UK really does feel like a promised land, and not because suddenly they’re going to be loaded with free income from state benefits.

It’s hard to think of yourself in that position, put yourself in that terrifying place, especially I have to say, when you’re having a laugh with a 21 year old teaching student from Sudan who can’t understand why you wouldn’t like maths or physics, and who excitedly tells me that sounds even have colour!! ( to be honest I thought the chances of having a conversation about synaesthesia in The Jungle were going to be non existent!! )…and then you walk away, back to a car which is going to easily get you safely home, and you remember that he also said he thought his sister may be in Ireland, but he didn’t know if she knew he was alive or not…he didn’t have a phone number or know where she lived and he last saw her 7 years ago…

…and also that other question How come they’ve got mobile phones?”

All I can really say to that is, if you could have a mobile phone, or a smartphone in that situation you would, wouldn’t you?… If you were living in a shelter in a camp ( which you feel ashamed to be living in because you’re used to living in a comfortable family home ), and you could find a volunteer who’s managed to get some electricity running from a generator, a volunteer who’s installed wifi and a volunteer who’s managed to find you a donated phone, wouldn’t you take it and charge it up, call your family, your friends, and maybe even ‘someone who knows someone’ who can help you get into the UK…I know I would.

“Why don’t they accept the container housing offered?”

Having experienced the community in the Jungle and seen the containers which are being offered, I can personally say that they don’t look inviting at all; they look more like the child catcher’s come to town and they’re waiting to ’contain’ you. They look like they’re cages without freedom with certainly no sense of community like the camp has, and they are simply the next step to applying for asylum, they are not a solution, and there is no real safety or comfort involved. Having said that a lot of the women and children have taken this option, to keep their babies and small children clean and safe, but it’s not an easy option and is just as frightening as waiting in camp…

As the sun was disappearing we all ate at ‘Kabul Cafe’, a cafe run by some of the entrepreneurial Afghans in the camp, and had amazing Afghan food: spiced eggs, lentils, rice and warm naan.

As we left the camp, the sun had already gone down and I thought of one of the Syrian men who said he’d been asleep all day so that he was awake enough to be able to try and get across that evening…( some of these men try up to four times a week ). I thought of the Afghan man who was flying a kite which he’d made with his son, and who told us he’d been spared being robbed by traffickers recently while most of the others in the group he was with hadn’t been spared that indignity. I thought of the two teenagers we met who’d only been in camp for a few days and then of the men who’d been there for 7 months…

Our Sudanese friends walked us to our car, we hugged them, wished them Good Luck and they told us to be safe, and I got in the car and started on the journey home with a different sort of conscience…

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How Jaz manages to stay bright, cheerful, hopeful and strong whilst visiting the camp so regularly is a mystery…she really is amazing, and that’s obviously why they love her in camp, and she absolutely personifies The Worldwide Tribe.

If you want to know more about the camp, what you can do to help, or just want to be updated with news please follow The Worldwide Tribe on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and help raise awareness to this humanitarian crisis…

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One thought on “Sunday…with the Calais Jungle and The Worldwide Tribe

  1. Vicki Rawlins

    Wow, just wow! Thanks so much for this amazing look into the camp! Looking at the container homes.. I get why they may not want live there, they do seem cold and lonely. The spray painted signs on the out houses brought tears to my eyes, never give up….

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