I have just returned from a second trip to the refugee camp of Dunkirk. We were there during the final closure of the camp in Calais which, as some of you may be aware, seems to have been rushed, disorganised and extremely dangerous for the approximately 1500-2000 unaccompanied minors left behind. At the time of writing this Help Refugees has released photos of the children boarding coaches to accommodation, but this is only after several days in a burning camp with no running water and, for some, sleeping rough on the perimeter. This is not how the closure was reported in most British newspapers.
We saw a handful of new families arrive at the Dunkirk camp during our second brief stint there but it too is being demolished. Rather more gradually; six shelters at a time. It was always a temporary measure and I am certain that the inhabitants do not want to make the camp their home any more than the authorities want them to stay, but without any alternatives in place the dismantling of the camp could prove to be disastrous.
From what I understand (I urge you to do your own research and fact-check my words for yourself, also see the references and links at the end), many of the inhabitants of the camp of Dunkirk are entitled to the ‘Family Reunification’ process. People we met spoke of sisters, brothers, sister-in-laws and uncles in the UK that they are desperate to be reacquainted with. That is why those who want to go to the UK, want to go to the UK. Not because anyone thinks the streets are paved with gold (although if they do ‘Great’ Britain is itself responsible for spreading self-aggrandising falsities throughout its ‘empire’ and beyond), but because they have family here. Perhaps they have learnt some English previously and don’t speak French. If they have to leave their home country they want to go somewhere where they will have the best possible chance of finding work and integrating themselves into the community. If you were forced to flee a war-torn country would you stop at the first place you arrived at, or would you go to the place where you already have some family connections, a grasp of the language and culture, somewhere that has, what you would regard to be, the best possible opportunities for yourself and your family? Personally, I’d go for the latter.
On the subject of fleeing a war-torn country, just to be clear about the difference between economic migrants and asylum seekers, every one of the people we met were fleeing persecution and/or the destruction of their home. The residents of the Dunkirk camp are all Kurdish. Many of the women and children we got to know are from Iraq. So, a little on the background of Britain’s relationship with Iraq…British troops are currently bombing Iraq. America has been bombing Iraq off and on for 25 years! I don’t know if Britain has been involved in all of that. Probably. It’s all incredibly complicated, and I’m certainly no expert, but just to get some snippet of the situation that has created our current refugee crisis…Britain is currently bombing not only Iraq, but Syria, Yemen and Libya. Fusian Media Network states that the US is currently bombing 7 countries in total, not just Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya, but also Afghanistan (still), Pakistan and Somalia. Drones are being used in some of these attacks. Civilians are also reported to be caught in the crossfire.
Do you feel a responsibility to people fleeing countries that are being bombed by our army and its allies? I do.
We volunteered in the Women’s Centre again this time. There were a lot of familiar faces. It was difficult because we were both very happy to see them again, but also sad that they were still living in these conditions. Bureaucracy is such, not to mention the complete lack of information and translators available, that many attempt the crossing in a more dangerous manner. There was some anger from the women this time; “Why is your country doing this to do us? Why don’t they like us?”. I don’t know. And I wouldn’t blame your country one bit for not taking us in if, and when, the UK finds itself in a similar situation.
People are aware that the UK is stalling and so are asking about alternatives. Like asking what Britain is like in comparison to France. We always said France and Britain are the same, i.e., Britain is no better. Portugal is better than either. One of the volunteers we worked with last time said that Portugal treats asylum seekers well, much better than Britain or France. But here again everyone falls prey to Britain’s tireless self-publicity; people believes it’s great, even though its dealing of the biggest migrant crisis since World War 2 has been nothing short of cruel and inhumane. Our own prime minister, before he buggered off, referred to asylum seekers entering the UK as “swarms”; like insects, and scarily reminiscent of the lexicon of past human atrocities. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
Last night I saw an episode of Charlie Booker’s latest ‘Black Mirror’ series that felt very relevant. Episode 3 *spoiler alert* depicts a dystopian future where the army have brain implants to ensure that when they look at the enemy they see monsters, dehumanized zombie-like creatures called ‘roaches’, instead of the innocent human beings they actually are. This creates a more efficient killer. It helps to dehumanize a group of people if you want to be rid of them.
It was very easy to relate to the men, women and children of the camp we met. I would consider some of them my friends now and look forward to the time that I can meet them here in the UK. There was a family from Iraq that we became particularly close to. The mother, I would guess, is about the same age as my sister. Her eldest son, the same age as my nephew. Her daughter a year or two younger than my niece. This family had just arrived at the camp when we made our first visit. They were shy. The daughter was clearly in shock, possibly traumatised, and the mother and son very tentative. But we bonded. On our return the whole family were coming out their shells and, given the circumstances, seemed to be doing well. The daughter was happy and finally communicating with the other children. She offered to share her snacks whenever she had some and gave us each drawings and cards with Hello Kitty on the front. The mother talked to us about her brother-in-law in the UK and some other things on her mind, like weight loss. I imagine it was nice to forget the situation and have a gossip with other women. The son met us with a run and hug on our arrival and played drama games with us throughout the visit. Quite the little actor it turned out too. Being the difficult age of 11 he was sometimes a little awkward and often played it cool, but on our last day everything went out the window with big hugs all round. He told us that he loves us. That was a very hard goodbye.
Much like last time there was laughter, tears and everything in-between. Our first day finished with a frenetic dance to every version available of ‘I like to move it, move it’, (mostly the one from Disney Pixar’s ‘Madagascar’). We were dancing with the children, but the mothers seemed to get some enjoyment just from watching us make idiots of ourselves! Much like most children throughout the world there were some big ‘Frozen’ fans, so regular requests for a rendition of ‘Let it go’. And there was a long, difficult hug with a woman who was shaking with tears after telling the story of her home and why she had to leave. People do not leave because they fancy a change. Because they want to take your jobs. They leave because they have to, and we have more than enough resources to help people out who are in need.
One day, a man asked us where he would find a medic or someone with bandages. He explained that he had been attacked by 11 men who stole all of his belongings in a railway station in France. He had a wound on the back of his head where they had hit him with wooden poles. He was very calm when he told us this. Friendly. He even smiled to say “it could have been worse, at least it wasn’t iron”. This wasn’t sarcastic; here was a man, if ever I’ve met one, who saw the glass as half full. Looking on the bright side. Perhaps that’s just the strength of the human spirit when someone has been through endless adversity.
Happiness and Workshops- A Volunteer’s experience in the Women’s Centre of Dunkirk – A blog following our first visit
Help Rugees– lots of updates and information from one of the largest grassroots organisations in Calais
@fusianmedianetwork ‘All the Countries the U.S. Is Currently Bombing’