Friday, 29 January 2016

Personal Reflections on my Experiences in the Calais "Jungle"

Europe is in the throes of a crisis: the largest influx of refugees since World War II. Fleeing the horrors of the Syrian Civil War, Assad’s ruthless regime and the imminent threat of Islamic State, thousands upon thousands of Syrians are gathering their meagre possessions and setting out on the treacherous journey to Europe. Governments are paralysed, press coverage is ambivalent, yet the human tragedy is all too real, regardless of politics. This autumn, I felt I had to do something to help, however small.

I travelled to France as a volunteer with the charity Help Calais, which distributes vital supplies to the refugees living in the so-called ‘Jungle’. I was 18 years old, alone and uncertain, but I wanted to look behind the headlines, to see the crisis for myself. Never did I think that this experience would so dramatically change my perspective on the world; not only did I witness real human suffering, but I also came to realize that, whatever we label these people and however they are presented in the media, they are all human beings, just like you and me. Every day I spent in Calais, I discovered I had more and more in common with the refugees than I could ever have imagined. They welcomed me into their makeshift homes, offering me food and cups of tea, despite having so little for themselves. They smiled, they hugged me, and they talked to me about their hopes, hopes of becoming doctors or lawyers and studying in English universities. I began to realize that these people – whose lives had been decimated by war - are doing precisely what we are at liberty to do every day of our lives: pursuing their dreams. It soon dawned on me that, if I was living in Syria, Gaza, Eritrea or other such countries afflicted by war, persecution or abject poverty, I would have done exactly the same thing, and I would be in exactly the same desperate situation as they are in now.

It was this epiphany that fundamentally affected me as a person, bringing home to me the truism that we are all created as equals in this world, and that collectively we all deserve to be treated with love and humanity. Refugees have suffered ineffable pain during their journeys, witnessing the deaths of friends and loved ones. No one deserves to live in a camp nicknamed the ‘Jungle’ because of its terrible conditions; no one deserves to be treated as an animal because of their origin or skin colour; and finally, whether these people are refugees or economic migrants, they still have the right to live fulfilling lives. This is why I was so sickened by the violence of the Gendarmes, who bulldozed refugees’ tents and destroyed possessions, including passports, immigration papers and family photographs. I saw grown men weeping and young children fleeing tear gas and rubber bullets – these are the images that shall always haunt me.

During my time in the Jungle, I met the most inspiring group of people and I heard the most astonishing stories, stories of incredible hope and stories of heart-breaking loss. My experiences in the camp encouraged me to reexamine my own life: though I worked hard in school, the opportunities I have before me are as much the product of luck as they are endeavour. And so, as I enter adulthood, I understand my duty to make the most of my chances so that, one day, I can make a difference in the world.

My article about police brutality in Calais and the overall plight of refugees: 

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