The word humanity comes from the Latin Humanitas for “human nature, kindness.” The word humanity means all human beings collectively, the human race, mankind. Humanity, therefore, is the human race, which includes everyone on Earth. Why, then, are some people being reduced to living in conditions such as in the photo above when they are just 90 miles from London?
Nelson Mandela, and you’d be hard pushed not to admire the man, once said ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity’ and that is exactly what is being denied to people on so many levels. I have just returned from my first trip of 2016 to Calais and Dunkirk and it is dire. The conditions are beyond anything you can imagine unless you have stepped foot in the place. Recent rain has reduced the place to a mudbath, shin deep, with rats crawling everywhere. Children are sick, well everyone is getting sick, and there appears to be no solution anytime soon. The police are not allowing any materials in to build temporary, and a bit more waterproof, structures, or sleeping bags or blankets. Anything that might create a bit of comfort basically. Volunteers are trying to sneak in desperately depleted donations to an ever increasing amount of families.
One of the reasons that there are an increasing amount of families is because they are leaving the camp at Calais. To seek sanctuary in Dunkirk seems unimaginable but at least it doesn’t get tear gassed every night. Families, and about 100 people arrived at Dunkirk just yesterday apparently, fleeing from somewhere that they have already fled to. So, basically, families flee war, make journeys from hell to try and reach family members and end up in Calais. Once people are in Calais it is no picnic trying to leave. Some people are seeking asylum in France but most are trying to reach family members in the UK. To do that they have to shove their children in the back of lorries in the hope that they can be smuggled across. The police presence in the camp in Calais has been ever increasing and they have become more and more liberal in their tear gas flinging about. The field with families in gets tear gassed every night and it is no fun, it is unbearable. People staying in the camp have tried to plead with the police to not throw tear gas at sleeping children but to no avail, it seems that it is a sport. More recently there has been nightly visits from the National Front throwing fireworks into the camp and there have been reported attacks on volunteers. The last two nights have seen the National Front thugs attacking refugees and then hiding behind police who are only too happy to shield them while the police have been using water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas.
So, just to clarify, the police are there to protect us innocent civilians from the marauding swarm of violent refugees. I, personally, have never felt under any threat, or any danger from anyone inside the camp and have only come across kindness and gentleman like behaviour. I have no doubt that there are tricky characters but none so tricky as the people dressed up in black robocop outfits dispatching violence at a whim. The right wing extremists also come and attack refugees and volunteers. The police protect the people who are doing the attacking and join in with weapons of their own in case the people being attacked retaliate. Got it? Yes, those are the rules. And somehow, everyone seems to think that this is alright. It is utterly mind boggling. So, if you do go to Calais and find yourself in trouble, seek out a refugee who will be more than happy to help you and protect you from the people who are there to protect you from the refugees…
It’s a bit hard to see any humanity in this. I see it in the people’s eyes who continue to show kindness and resilience against all the odds. I see it in the volunteer’s eyes who look and feel as though they are trying to sweep back the sea with a broom, doing an impossible job but not giving up. It would seem that authorities are doing all that they can to take away any last shred of hope and every person needs some hope to keep going. Hope is what runs through even the most tragic of stories. I went to Dunkirk before Christmas and some families were excited because they were expecting to leave after Christmas. I couldn’t really understand what was being said. It seemed that they thought that people were coming to get them and that they only had a little more time in that hell hole. I thought that i had misunderstood, why would anyone from our government go and get them? That really would be a show of humanity and they certainly don’t seem to have much of that. The same families this time looked even more desperate. ‘We were told that the government was coming to get us, is it true? Is it a lie?’ I have no idea who told them this, smugglers? traffickers? a rumour got out of hand? but the desperation in that father’s eyes went right through to the middle of my heart.
Some people have asked to be deported back home, saying that they would rather die in their own country but with dignity. If the government wants to create extremists they are going about it perfectly. One volunteer has said that yesterday he saw a man lying in the mud and howling like an animal. Thinking he was hurt he went over but the man had just found out that his whole family had been killed back at home. And still we continue to not find any solutions to this so called ‘problem.’ Yes, of course more people are going to come. There is a f*****g humanitarian crisis going on across the world, people are fleeing for their lives, for crying out loud. I wonder if anyone (who is probably now deemed a hero) who saved children from the ovens of the holocaust thought ‘Oh no I’d better not save that child otherwise they’ll all want saving.’ Of course, they all want bloody saving. Who wouldn’t want saving? And yes, of course, resources are limited and we are an island and there isn’t room for everyone but we have to make the space for the sake of humanity. It’s not forever, it’s for now and it is happening right now.
I live near Cambridge, a city that has produced more Nobel prize winners than several countries combined apparently. How come we can produce people that can split atoms every five minutes but not find an answer to this complete humanitarian disaster that has unfolded upon our doorstep? It can’t be that difficult. People are offering to house families but the rules are so ridiculous that it is made almost impossible unless you have a spare house to dish out and not many people have got a spare house knocking about. Some but not many. We are inching towards a situation where, to offer kindness and compassion is out of favour with the very authorities that are meant to be acting and speaking on our behalf. Instead of shooting people with water cannons. Instead of depriving people of shelter, warmth and food (very very basic human rights). Instead of France and Britain batting this responsibility back and forth like a bad smell. Why not find a solution? There used to be a processing office in Calais where asylum claims were processed in a civil manner until 2003 (the Iraq war) and then Britain took the office away. Probably anticipating the deluge of asylum seekers that Britain was creating through starting a nonsensical war.
The word Humanity is also a word for the qualities that make us human, such as the ability to love and have compassion, be creative. There is absolutely none of that going on. The lack of human qualities being shown by our government, the french authorities, the police, some members of the public is heartbreaking it really is. In a cafe in Calais, this time, I met a lorry driver. A big northern lorry driver and we sat down and had the most heart warming conversation. French residents, a lorry driver and a volunteer all sitting down in the most civil of manners with a cup of tea exchanging views and personal experiences and learning from each other. Nobody taking it personally, nobody getting heated, just exchanging views and everyone coming away that little bit wiser and thanking one another for being who they are.
I understand people’s fears and confusion but I do not understand lack of humanity. There is no excuse for that. The people in Greece have the numbers of Calais and Dunkirk arriving on their shores every single day! Every single day. And yet they manage this with dignity and more than a sprinkling of compassion and Greece is on its knees financially and resource wise. How can we not manage what we have on our doorstep? It is a tiny fraction of what Greece is dealing with, what the rest of the world is dealing with and yet we treat the whole situation with disdain and fear and violence. It makes no sense whatsoever. I feel angry and completely heartbroken and only manage to hang onto my faith in the kindness of man by the actions of the volunteers that I see working their socks off and by the refugees themselves.