"We will be rich together or we will all drown together" An African author Fatou Diome criticises Europe's hypocrisy on refugees. Thousands of refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean sea, to escape wars and persecution in their homelands. About 1,800 refugees have died in trying to cross in this year alone.
Many think Europe have adopted a "let them drown" policy as a deterrent. For those refugees that make it, many end up in the notorious "Jungle" a make shift refugee camp in Calais, where refugees wait desperately to try and make the dangerous crossing on lorries bound for Dover.
I first visited "the Jungle" in February 2015. I had met a lady (Maya) that worked for http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/ at a fundraising night in London. We immediately started talking about the situation in Calais, and I wanted to see for myself what it was really like in the "Jungle". A friend and I decided to drive a car load of food and clothes over for the refugees and make a film about our journey.
We borrowed my friends parents car and set about collecting clothes from friends. It was pretty cold in February and Maya had told us to bring lots of jackets and warm clothes particularly for men. In the winter time very few women and children risk the journey in the cold conditions. Many of the refugees that end up in Calais are fleeing civil war or certain death in their home countries. I met a lot of people from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The camp doesn't officially exist in the eyes of the French government or the UK government for that matter. There are no washing facilities, no sanitation or running water. No where to sleep. So the people here build their make shift homes out of tarpaulin or tents and do the best they can. These people are amazingly resourceful, they have built a mosque and a church and a couple of huts that act as shops, there are two restaurants that cater for those that have a few spare euros or something to trade. There were many people sleeping in a corrugated iron warehouse which was an abandoned sports hall. All of the refugees we met were incredibly hospitable, cooking for us with the little they had, and sharing their food and stories from their homelands. Life is tough in the camp but with out all the material crap you have to rely on the human spirit. Kindness and generosity go along way in this world.
A few weeks after we left there was a forced evacuation and the whole jungle (over 1,500 people) had to pack up and leave with very little notice. The chaos of the evacuation left the Jungle looking like an apocalypse had happened.
The sports hall where over a hundred people sheltered through the winter was eerily empty. The evacuation was arranged by the French government, people fled in a hurry and left many possessions behind as if there were fleeing for their lives...
The second time I went back was just days after the jungle had been evacuated by the French police and the refugees were moved further out of Calais to a place near a food center called the Jules Ferry center. Again, no shelter or sanitation but there was a center where you could get one hot meal a day.
That day a lot of the Afghan refugees were having a kite flying day, the sun was out and spirits were high, some of the younger refugees played keep ups with a football and others flew kites.
The old jungle was left in a mess, many refugees fled and didn't think about what they left behind. Is it any wonder when the places they are staying are not fit for human habitation.
We must treat these people as survivors not refugees. They are human beings with skills and talents and a lot to share. They have fled their homelands in fear of death looking for a better life. We owe it to them to treat them as fellow human beings. If you'd like to help, please visit Maya's organisations website: http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/