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.
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.
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
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.