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Safari Snaps

Here are a few more photos from my time in the Calais refugee camp; ‘The Jungle’.

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A French Favella

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There is a temptation to begin with a song cliché and I can already think of two, the obvious one and another which I would prefer to keep to myself for credibility reasons. Perhaps quoting an Eritrean boy would be more fitting,

“Welcome to hell”

For that was exactly were I had found myself. On my way back to Greece, where I have already written one piece entitled ‘Welcome To Hell’, I thought it may be a good idea to see another part of this refugee / migrant crisis currently engulfing Europe, and took a few days out to go on safari in the jungle. The jungle in Calais that is, and ‘The Jungle’ being the name given to the near permanent camp set up next to the ferry port to Dover. I say near permanent because despite the best efforts of the French that is what it has become, but only near because in reality they are slowly demolishing it. It is a seven thousand person hotpot of cultures and nationalities all thrown into one small area and despite the odd flare up, is a seemingly peaceful, and when the sun is out, happy place.

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We arrived to drama. The main entrance of the camp was blocked by what seemed liked an army of riot police telling us the camp was closed and then that it was ‘finished’. Thankfully there was another van behind trying to get in and they simply showed us the back door to the camp. They were bulldozing everybody’s homes and shops within three hundred metres of the main entrance, which although not on the scale, evoked Gaza in my minds eye. Officially it seems unclear why but it doesn’t take much thought to realise there will soon be an extra big fence in the now cleared space. They are also like I said, slowly demolishing the camp and this is just another part of that process. Eventually it seems like the aim will be to house everybody in a series of sterile lifeless shipping containers; fit to house a fraction of the jungles population. The preferred choice is clear, despite the conditions, they have community, and very few are going to want to give that up to live in a gated fenced off enclosure with security guards allowing passage only once hand prints are provided. It is dangerous for what it represents and for what history has taught us, all we need now is some black uniforms and striped pyjamas.

IMG_0930[1]The community created may not be pretty and it is quite remarkable that there is a shanty town in the heart of Europe, less than one hour from the UK, but through everything endured there; something is thriving and growing. There are shops, styled on the Afghan model and restaurants, also styled on the Afghan model, even providing the authentic loud terrible music experience. There is certainly a part of me that doesn’t feel the need to travel Afghanistan any more, The Jungle having provided a taste of the experience for me, but equally the taste has the potential to have planted a seed so who knows where this could go. Talking of tastes, it would be a crime of me not to mention the food, which may not have varied a great deal from rice, lentils, beans and spinach dishes but which sent me on a journey with each meal, not to mention the freshly baked bread. It was a culinary tour and you could certainly do a cookery programme on it, perhaps I should put out some feelers for the book.

I have to be objective though. This is not a camp of beauty and harmony. On our first night there were two groups of Afghans with makeshift bats seemingly squaring off against each other. I don’t know why or what the end result was, as all we could get out of people was ‘crazy Afghans’, and I refuse to lay too much judgement on something I don’t know or understand. In the morning somebody went after another guy with an enormous kitchen knife, although I doubt with any real intention as he had the opportunity to inflict pain and never took it. Then finally it was quite clear what was happening when two young guys tried to pick pocket my friend. I am not going to paint either a sentimental beautiful picture of the place or the one our governments would like to of violence and crime, but it is a real place, and it is a desperate place, and as a result; you will always get moments which may seem extreme by normal polite societal standards, whatever the hell they are and of course, whatever the hell objectivity is.

It is always important to look beyond these moments of human madness, and enjoy the time spent with people. I am not sure what it is I wanted to achieve with my visit. I thought about doing some volunteering for a bit, maybe help out in one of the kitchens, but really it was only ever about widening my own perspective of this crisis and hopefully yours too. There are not some worthy people and some not so worthy in this world, and you cannot easily divide people into refugee and economic migrant, legal or illegal. I see people who need help, and whether they are fleeing from war, persecution or poverty they are desperately suffering. People should not be living like this and the hard truth is; this is the result of conflicts in our name and the macro inequalities designed to keep us comfortable in our homes. Lets just take one second to be grateful our homes are not made of tarpaulin, and that our front door keys don’t come in the shape of our hand

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*UPDATE*

The French authorities have recently announced the destruction of what amounts to the majority of the camp by the end of this week. In the picture below you can see a marked out area in red, this is their next area of demolishion. Apparently the plan is to limit the camp to a managable two thousand people, what that means for the other five thousand, I don’t think the authorities care. Either way, if the previous destruction passed off without any major incidents I can’t see the same happening this time around, I don’t even want to imagine what violence the authorities have planned to pull this off.

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The Nights Watch

I am writing this while staring out into the infinite darkness of the sea at night. It has been an incredibly quiet day, which is good, but frustrating on a personal level as you want to keep busy out here. The collective catch-22 dilemma. We have just had a report of a boat about to come into the town nearby, which will be only the third today on this usually busy north coast, and i am on watch on a nearby beach just incase they go off track. I am sitting in a car on my own, if they come before i make the call and before reinforcements arrive, and on such a windy night, anything could happen. I don’t want anything to happen. I also don’t expect anything to happen, i expect them to land, hopefully safely, in Eftalou around the corner. You learn to expect the unexpected around here though.

As i said it has been an incredibly quiet day. The sea has been rough which would make it mad to cross, however as there is a great deal of madness, desperation and naivety around here you must always assume boats will come whatever the weather. The rains and storms of my first few days didn’t put many off so why would a little wind. I wonder what affect the freezing winter waters and snow will have. Rumour has it that the current political situation in Turkey with their election is having an influence too. It is very important to appear to be doing something or successfully covering up something when the cameras are switched on. Throw into the mix the news I heard tonight that Alexis Tsipras the Greek Prime Minister is coming on thursday, and the fact the last time he was here no boats arrived for a few days prior to his, thus keeping numbers down and appearances up, you start to understand the bigger picture. The UNHCR are at it too, their personnel doing the productive busy dance when a delegate is in town and the disappearing act the moment they go. The curtain coming down on their performance. They held onto blankets for ten days recently because they wouldn’t let them be handed out until their logo had been printed on them. It is becoming increasingly clear what the priorities are out here.

No boat came in the end, although there was one rescue. With all that staring through headlights into the sea i had forgotten to switch the car on to charge the battery. Good job no refugees did come, just imagine;

“Welcome to Europe. Now give my car a push so i can rescue you”

The Nights Watch

Source: The Nights Watch

The Nights Watch

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I am writing this while staring out into the infinite darkness of the sea at night. It has been an incredibly quiet day, which is good, but frustrating on a personal level as you want to keep busy out here. The collective catch-22 dilemma. We have just had a report of a boat about to come into the town nearby, which will be only the third today on this usually busy north coast, and i am on watch on a nearby beach just incase they go off track. I am sitting in a car on my own, if they come before i make the call and before reinforcements arrive, and on such a windy night, anything could happen. I don’t want anything to happen. I also don’t expect anything to happen, i expect them to land, hopefully safely, in Eftalou around the corner. You learn to expect the unexpected around here though.

As i said it has been an incredibly quiet day. The sea has been rough which would make it mad to cross, however as there is a great deal of madness, desperation and naivety around here you must always assume boats will come whatever the weather. The rains and storms of my first few days didn’t put many off so why would a little wind. I wonder what affect the freezing winter waters and snow will have. Rumour has it that the current political situation in Turkey with their election is having an influence too. It is very important to appear to be doing something or successfully covering up something when the cameras are switched on. Throw into the mix the news I heard tonight that Alexis Tsipras the Greek Prime Minister is coming on thursday, and the fact the last time he was here no boats arrived for a few days prior to his, thus keeping numbers down and appearances up, you start to understand the bigger game. The UNHCR are at it too, their personnel doing the productive busy dance when a delegate is in town and the disappearing act the moment they go. The curtain coming down on their performance. They held onto blankets for ten days recently because they wouldn’t let them be handed out until their logo had been printed on them. It is becoming increasingly clear what the priorities are out here.

No boat came in the end, although there was one rescue. With all that staring through headlights into the sea i had forgotten to switch the car on to charge the battery. Good job no refugees did come, just imagine;

“Welcome to Europe. Now give my car a push so i can rescue you”

A little bit of news….

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I got a little frustrated and annoyed today. We were bringing a boat in and as it’s motor had broken, they had to paddle for over an hour and a half before they made land. The people on the shore were trying to get them to aim for a piece of safe beach away from the rocks but it meant fighting against the tide and simply added to their exhaustion. The idea was a good one but equally the people who thought it was just making it harder and more distressing for them were also correct as it did just that. There seemed to be no uniformed idea of the best approach to take and it made me realise how many people are volunteers and not trained professionals. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people out here know exactly what they are doing and are doing a great job, and there are a few professional groups but generally an international humanitarian disaster is being run by volunteers with no training and who are gaining the experience on the job. This is people lives and they’re been saved by people learning on the job. Let that sink in. This is in no way taking anything away from people doing an incredible job, but it should never be like this. Where are the European governments best men? Why is the UNHCR viewed of as a complete joke over here? Even send in the army, I’m sure they would prefer that to sitting around in their barracks. This is peoples lives and I’m stuck wondering when the world with all its money and power is going to come along and save them. It is a disgrace, it disgusts me and I’m angry about it. Makes me wonder whether they really want to efficiently deal with this crisis and how much they actually want and need it. It can’t be denied that it’s not only a money maker but creates a really emotive and manipulatable political argument too.

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Anyone for an environmental disaster?

But enough of that, I want to mention a few other things I haven’t been able to over the last few days. It has been a week and I’ve moved on from my pointless sentimentality that I first experienced to something else and I fully expect to move on and then probably back to sentimentality all over again. I’m not going to make a sweeping general statement and say that these are good people, but there are good honest innocent men, women and children risking everything for an idea they have been sold about an illusionary Europe. I met a Syrian guy, fresh off the boat in the north of the island, a couple of nights ago and he stayed with me for a bit while I played crowd control. I think we both needed each others company a little in that moment, then the next night when handing out water and clothes at the port I saw him again and I was so happy he was there. He introduced me to all his friends and we chatted for a while about their lives back home in Syria. He was a mechanic, one of his friends a civil engineer, another a veterinarian, another an accountant, and they were all in their mid to late twenties, some still studying. This is Syria’s next educated generation which should be taking the country forward but instead they are fleeing for their lives so they can clean toilets in northern Europe. Despite having the money to travel to that far, five to six thousand euro by the way, and for many is money sent to them by people already settled in Europe, they ‘have no future’ at home, or in many cases no home at all. On a macro scale, the future impact for Syria of losing some of it’s best minds must never be underestimated and will simply weaken a country already on it’s knees as foreign powers point rifles at it’s head from all angles. It just seems like these people are pawns in a game of chess, although it’s not just being played in one country but the entire Middle East.

Please think before donating
Please think before donating

There are so many little bits of information or ideas floating around here amongst those helping out. The refugees pay between one to two thousand euro each for the crossing. A boat arrived in the north just a few hours before we arrived which had nearly three hundred people on it. Normal dingies take about forty and some of the larger boats seventy. The Turkish jails are apparently full of smugglers as it is only six months for a first time offense, two years for a second, time well spent if you can set yourself up for life on the profits of just one trip. These smugglers are apparently Turkish mafia, although the levels of corruption in Turkey makes Erdogan and his government just as responsible. There are countless reports out here of refugees being forced onto the boats at gunpoint if they refuse to travel because of the weather or the condition of the boat. As the smugglers don’t get paid until the boat arrives this is highly believable and as the weather gets worse going into winter is only going to get worse.

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I seemingly couldn’t help myself, I tried to be positive and tell wonderful happy stories but I slipped back into the reality of the situation. I will finish with a positive though. About ten days ago, a woman’s water broke and she went into labour either when getting into the boat or while crossing the six kilometre stretch from Turkey. A volunteer successfully helped her give birth on the beach. I find that incredible, so beautiful in many ways, and something I suspect will never be forgotten by all those involved. What a way to come into this world

A Festival Gone Wrong

Source: A Festival Gone Wrong

A Festival Gone Wrong

Today has been less manic, or at least I have become a little more used to it already. You don’t have time to think, if possible to be too sentimental, you just have to get on with it. We went up to Moria, the registration centre for refugees coming from non-Syrian countries, those who it’s not in the benefit of the west for their media to drum up sympathy and support for. Dealing mainly with Iraqis and Afghans, we handed out clothes, shoes and food to whoever was lucky enough, which is never nearly everyone.

Moria used to be the registration centre solely for the Syrian refugees but then when everyone else turned up they moved them somewhere else. Moria is like a festival gone wrong, rubbish everywhere, high unscalable fences, locals selling expensive crap food and angry police playing ‘crowd control’. It is a nightmare, especially for those trapped behind the fence, lucky enough to be in an indefinite queue and unable to leave to get any food, drink, or even go to the toilet. While listening to two doctors talk I discovered those processing the people control the speed they let them through, it is increasing obvious the benefit to the local economy of having thousands to hungry people needing food, taxis and boats arriving daily. Incidentally, they were also discussing the fact the person they were checking up on most likely had hypothermia.

I showed them a photo of a man suffering from trench foot, I have added the picture below, it is nothing out of the ordinary around here apparently. I have been too busy to take many photographs and people don’t always like their picture being taken. Take a look at what I have so far, it may give you an idea in a way that words cannot.

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Welcome To Hell

Source: Welcome To Hell

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