Sometimes the images of horror and destruction we see on the news can be so overwhelming that it leaves us with a sense of helpless. The refugee crisis seems far too complex, our news screens are filled with grim images of dead kids, cities covered in rubble, men in balaclavas holding massive guns.
In some sense it can be comforting to distance these individuals from ourselves, alienate, create a ‘them and us’ dichotomy which allows us to blame the individuals for their situation rather than feel empathy. I saw this recently in the comments section of a news article concerning refugees ; many attested that the people that live in places such as Syria should simply ‘stand up and fight for their country’ and ‘defend their territory. I’m sure Barry from Wandsworth would grab all his kitchen utensils and rush to the front door for queen and country if ISIS were hammering at his door. Many suggested that somehow the refugees were faking poverty because they dared to own an android phone. I know that if I had to rush from my home for my safety and make a perilous journey, one of the first things I would grab is my phone. Not so I could snapchat my journey across Europe in the back of a lorry or see my tinder matches in France but to have some connection with family and friends; to let others know I am safe and to have necessary contacts that could help me. We have to remember their entire identity is not ‘refugee’ and that as soon as you become a refugee its not like a reverse Cinderella where a godmother comes along and transforms your clothes into rags and your hair into matted strands, they are normal people.
In 2016 the news confronted us with the startling image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi washed up on the beach, spat out by the waves, face down. Highlighting the desperation of the people, the horrors a mother must be running from to put her own toddler in a boat, knowing he may not survive the trip. The headlines very quickly changed from accusations of hordes of refugees swarming European countries, bleeding the benefits system dry, planning terrorist plots and raping young women to outcries of sympathy and support. As if it was an epiphany that these refugees were dying in vast numbers attempting to escape terrorist groups and war zones. As if we did not know that ISIS could be a particularly cruel bunch. The right to asylum is an inalienable right documented in the UN. Everyone has the right to flee a country from persecution, in fact 19 million children flee their own country every year, sadly 70% do not reach their destination. I witnessed a glimpse of some of the atrocities on a small visit to the Calais refugee camp where many refugees stayed in the hopes of eventually reaching the UK via the port. Many staying up all night attempting every single evening to find some way to get to the UK. Many of the men I met had been doctors, lawyers, teachers in their countries but had been stripped of everything in the move here, including their identities. Finding borders closed, police that assault and tear gas you and hospitals refusing to treat you. Forced to be stripped of your humanity and treated like a parasite for the crime of wanting to be safe in a country.
Why Are The Refugees There?
The situation in Calais is part of a mass migration crisis caused mostly by displaced people from war torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and North Africa. Many are staying in Calais in the hope of reaching the UK because of its proximity to the port. The camp was officially demolished in October 2016 but since then has began to build up again. The crisis was not solved and the refugees merely shifted to other locations across northern France Many are hidden in small camps, fields, garages or derelict buildings. Others are at an official camp near Dunkirk at Grande-Synthe. Many want to get to the UK because they dream of a better life, they dream of jobs, opportunities, security and many have family already there.
What Can You Do to Help
There are some fantastic charities that I discovered in my research. Some of these I have previous experience through volunteering or fundraising for.
Calais action provides mobile internet and calls to refugees providing a lifeline to recipients. For many accompanied children this is the only safety net they have and for many this is the only way they can contact their families and let them know they are safe. All you need to do is text CALA85 and the amount you want to donate to 70070.
Refugee Community Kitchen
Refugee community kitchen provides nourishment to people in need. You can email to volunteer with the kitchen or you can donate money.
Care4calais helps with distribution of essential products such as toiletries or clothes. Sometimes all refugees arrive with is the shirts off their backs. They are currently doing Packs4Calais where you can collect essential items together for refugees into a pack and drop them off at a collection centre where they will be sent to Calais. You can volunteer with Care4Calais in Calais, or you can help with collecting and sorting items to be sent from the UK to Calais. You can also donate funds or buy essential products.
Calais People to People Solidarity
This is a group where you can help organise aid from the UK to those stranded in Calais. You can find your local group on the facebook page.