Thursday 17 March 2016
The Calais 'jungle'
I have just returned from “The Jungle” refugee camp in Calais. Thousands of people who have made it to the Channel coast, fleeing from the abyss of destruction, death and chaos our bombardier politicians have rained down on them. It was a dry day, but there were pools and streams of dirty water. Sand was blowing around and, despite the sunshine, the bitter cold invaded life and health. I went there as a guest of some wonderful homeopathic practitioners and, with their translator Najeeb Khan, the group approached numerous families. Only one didn't have colds, coughs, sore throats and worse. We were welcomed with warmth and too many cups of sweet tea. There was an eagerness to talk about their lives and what had brought them so many thousands of miles from their homes. How had they arrived on the channel coast? On EasyJet? Eurostar? Hired coaches? Many of them had walked across Western Europe. When you next fly or train it to southern Europe, look down at the ground. Walked? There are many volunteers working there – doctors, nurses, musicians, youth workers at the Baloo Youth Centre and at the Jungle Books library. At the large and well organised warehouse mostly young people unload foods, clothing, medicines and sleeping equipments. There is optimism and hope amongst the refugees. Another world that is not only possible, but being brought into being under these terrible conditions. As one of the founders of the UK NGO, War Child, I have a few questions. I am aware that Médecins Sans Frontières is present on a small scale in Calais and Dunkirk. That Save the Children has funded some of the volunteer work in the camps, but where are the larger NGO's 'on the ground'. Why are they not at least advocating for the refugees? Last year Save the Children did say this: “The UK government is very generous in aid and should be proud of rescuing thousands of people from drowning in the Mediterranean this summer. David Cameron deserves real praise.” But if they cannot speak out, where are they? Is it true they cannot get directly involved because neither the French or British government have declared a humanitarian emergency? Doesn't NGO translate as 'NON-Government ? A number of other questions. Does the French government take money from the UN to keep people at the camps, but do little or nothing in return? Is it true that the Calais camp has been partially, but not completely, destroyed so that this situation can continue? Is it true that with the destruction of the camp the French and UK governments might face court action? I am sure I am repeating rumours. Perhaps my questions are naïve. Perhaps. "Left Field' will be published in six weeks. Published by Unbound & distributed by Penguin Books