This is a photo of ‘The Jungle’ in Calais on Friday. It was my 8th trip out there since the beginning of the year and the changes that have been brought about in that time by decisions made by those ‘that know’ are stark and heartbreaking.
Over the past two weeks a large part of the camp has been demolished. The camp shouldn’t exist, there is no question of that, there should be no need for it but the way in which the people have been displaced, houses destroyed, wishes ignored has been, and continues to be, brutal. It’s hard to find the words to describe the actions of the police without descending into profanities. After months of tear gas, beatings and general intimidating they have now been given free rein to turf people out of their homes using whatever methods they so wish. The problem is, or one of them anyway, is that the very people that we have been taught that we should turn to at a time of injustices being meted out towards us – the government, the courts, the police – are the very people who are dishing out the brutalities. Where do you turn after that? There is nowhere. They are paid to uphold the very law that they fly in the face of.
12 men from Iran are on hunger strike in protest at the way in which people have been treated throughout this whole ‘eviction.’ They have sewn their lips up as a protest on behalf of everyone of their voices not being heard. They are brave, bright, compassionate men who are trying to appeal to the authorities to hear the voice of the people, to listen to the wishes of the people, to acknowledge the injustices that are being heaped upon them. Sadly, they are appealing to the very governments who are quite happy to drop bombs on small children so I can’t see that there will be much compassion coming their way. It feels utterly helpless.
On Friday I spent time with a man who is 75 years old and he invited me to his caravan for a cup of tea with another volunteer. He spent 15 years in prison in Iran and is trying to get to his son and daughter in England who have been there for many years. I left his caravan and was then kettled by the police because a fire had started. The fire quickly took hold, gas cannisters exploded, a telegraph pole caught fire as did the wires. It was pretty spectacular. People watched as their shops and shelters burnt to the ground with their worldly belongings in them. The police, in all their wisdom, thought it best to herd a bunch of distressed people into a tight huddle so that they couldn’t actually get to another part of the camp away from the fire but were all bunched together enough for it to cause friction. How there is not more friction than there already is I do not know. I found myself squashed into a group with the mouth of a tear gas gun about two inches from my left eye. Not terribly relaxing.
Many people complain about being invisible once you reach middle age. In situations like this it becomes a distinct advantage. I managed to sneak out under the arms of multiple armed thugs and nobody really noticed. I was rescued by an Iranian friend and offered more tea as I couldn’t get back to my car anyway through the lines and lines of robocops employed to keep me and the rest of northern France safe. We spent the next couple of hours sharing stories and proper belly laughing. One young man used to work in children’s radio making animal noises and he regaled us with his reptoire. His horse could do with some work but his sheep was uncanny and giraffes apparently do not have vocal chords. Another young man said that he had been put in prison because he had a tattoo. The others were Christians and Iran is not the place to be if you are a Christian.
I finally made it out at about 9 o clock when most of the police are no longer there. The cost of paying for all of those police must be extortinate. Way more than the amount that it would cost to process everyone’s asylum claims in a humane and legal way. Way more than it would cost to just provide basic facilities as is also the legal obligation of Europe to do so. Mr Cameron has not even visited the place that he has poured so much of our taxpayers money into turning it into a living hell. He should go, just once, just talk with some people, actually have the guts to walk about there. Theresa May would do well to just wait in the car.
How did we ever get to this? England and France are the 5th and 6th richest countries in the world but absolutely poverty stricken when it comes to treating our fellow humans with decency and respect. Greece meanwhile is on its knees and continues to treat people with kindness. Greece has a basic philosophy which is taught to children in schools apparently. Filotimo – filo (love) timo (honour). That’s not on our curriculum in schools. It is a philosophy of ‘one who out of deep gratitude loves and lives striving to think, say and do that which is honourable.’ ‘The characteristic, virtuous demenor of such a one, which is expressed in good thoughts, words and deeds.’ Basically it is the respectful way that people interact with one another. People all over Greece are opening up their doors. Elderly people inviting people in to just be able to wash and go to the toilet. It’s really not difficult.
This is also happening in France and England it has to be said. I have met so many amazing people over the last eight months, that I have been involved in all this, who have put their lives on hold to be able to do what they can. As one Elizabeth Gilbert so neatly puts it: ‘Those of us who are warm and dry and safe and well-fed must show up for those who are cold and wet and endangered and hungry. That’s a rule of life. Every ethical and religious and spiritual tradition in the world agrees on that rule.’ England doesn’t seem to be managing this. More laws are about to be passed ruling that people must earn a minimum of 35 grand in order to stay in this country. 35 grand?? I’m not sure I know anyone who earns that! I’m a qualified social worker and have never earned that. My father was an engineer and he never earned that. Both professions are, incidently, on the shortage of occupation list which means that our country seeks people from abroad to fill the many vacancies. Just more laws to make it more difficult to stop people coming to Europe.
Why are they all coming to Europe? Well, there are, apparently, 11 million refugees from Syria alone. With just those from Iraq and Afghanistan that probably takes it to about 18 million. There are about 1.3 million coming into Europe. Most are in the Middle East with 3 million in Turkey alone and Lebanon having taken 30% of its population in refugees. Why are they all coming to Europe? They’re not. But the ones that are, show them the respect and kindness that is right.
People are afraid, it’s understandable as the world has gone nuts and that is frightening. We have been taught to be afraid of refugees, of Muslims in particular, as fear keeps the people under control. People who are murdering and raping in the name of Islam has nothing to do with religion. They are murderers and rapists. In the same way that right wing violence has nothing to do with politics. They are just nasty bastards. But what if people are ‘swarming’ to our shores, not to take what we have, to change the way of life but to show us what we are really like? Rather than challenging our way of life, maybe we can learn what it is like to be fighting for it?
We have been fed the narrative that marauders are lurking in the midst but the biggest killer in the world is poverty. Apparently, 24,000 people a day die from poverty which comes from the world’s obsession with material wealth. Where people are judged on their financial lucrativeness rather than what they bring to the world in so many other ways. I don’t want to live in a country that only wants people that earn 35 grand plus. I want to be able to belly laugh with people who make animal noises. I want the world to be full of artists and musicians and horses and folk who see beyond the shite that is being fed to us. I want Filotimo to be taught to our children in schools. I want the amazing people that I have met to be treated with the respect that they have shown me over the months. I want a huge mixture of people, that is a richness that cannot be bought and is truly magnificent.
At a time when it feels as though we are losing our marbles, I also see hope though. People are stepping up to fill the gaping holes left by our governments. Wonderful people who are doing what is right in whatever way that they can. It is the Rise Of The Give A Shits and if enough people give a shit we might just get to the other end of this with our marbles and humanity intact.