Over the last year I’ve felt increasingly helpless here in the UK after watching the increasingly extraordinary plight of those less fortunate than us heading to Europe.
Just like me, most of us have learned about the severity of the refugee crisis from the comfort of our news feeds. But others have put themselves on the frontline of this seemingly never-ending catastrophe.
I met up with The Worldwide Tribe, a team who run a travel blog which aims to bring to light some of the most pressing issues across the globe who are involved with distributing aid to Europe’s many refugees, and joined them on their way to Calais’s refugee camp, dubbed ‘The Jungle’.
Setting Off To ‘The Jungle’, I Couldn’t Help But Feel Nervous
I joined Jaz O’Hara, 25, and her boyfriend Dan Teuma, 29, who have raised more than £160,000 to provide food, clothing and shelter to refugees, via their Just Giving Cal Aid page – smashing Just Giving’s record of the most money ever donated to one cause.
We set off for Calais from Jaz’s Kent home early on a Saturday morning to reach The Jungle in time for a planned day of mass solidarity and protests. Jaz, along with the rest of The Worldwide Tribe and CalAid, helped to organise the event which was due to attract supporters and media from across Europe.
As we boarded the Eurotunnel, I was curious as to the way in which I’d be received in the camp. I’d read the right-wing headlines about ‘marauding migrants’ across the channel who were coming over for our benefits and to steal all our jobs, but like most people (apart from those paranoid Britain First goons) I didn’t buy in to this utter crap, or the bullshit memes circulating social media.
When veered off the motorway after a short journey from the train, I still had some reservations about just turning up in The Jungle. Due to the prospect of being surrounded by people who had faced unspeakable horrors, fled their homelands and had little or no possessions, I guessed I’d be in for a cold, sombre reception.
So These People Are ‘Marauding Migrants’? Fuck Off
After driving through the quickly growing outer perimeters of The Jungle, we parked up and I was greeted with an abundance of warm smiles and welcoming embraces from almost everyone I was in speaking distance to. There was a electric buzz in the camp and the atmosphere seemed to have been slowly building throughout the morning in anticipation of the protest.
Shouts of “Yasmin, Yasmin!” (Jaz’s nickname in the camp) frenziedly rang out and it became increasingly clear that her and Dan maintained a celebrity-like status amongst the refugees, and had gained well-deserved recognition for their trips over with vans full of aid.
The sound of tribal drums grew louder as we found our way through the masses of tents and neared the centre of the camp. Huge amounts of people had turned out: refugees, activists, aid workers and the general public were all united in a sea of solidarity, here to show their support and protest against the collective European mismanagement of the refugee crisis.
Taking To The Streets In Solidarity, Surrounded By Barbed Wire
There were Sudanese, Somalian, Afghan, Syrian, Eritrean, Iraqi mini-camps which all collectively made up what is known as The Jungle. With their homelands ravaged by war, many had fled in search of peace and here, people who are affected by conflicts around the globe manage to coexist peacefully.
We all began marching together towards the ferry port, here emotional speeches were read, songs were sang and a solidarity agreement was signed by those in attendance. A huge canvas was unveiled which represented the barbed wire fence surrounding the port which was to stop the refugees attempts at stowing away. People were encouraged to write humanising slogans on the canvas, such as “I am a doctor” or “I am a carpenter”, rather than the ‘swarm’ of migrants that David Cameron had labeled them as.
These Refugee Lads Couldn’t Be More ‘Normal’ If They Were Born In North London
All the crowds gradually dispersed and I headed back to the camp with some African-Sudanese refugees I’d been introduced to. I started speaking to one pleasant lad who made me wholeheartedly promise to take him to see his beloved Arsenal. The likelihood of this man date was very low, not because of the slim chances he has of making it over, but rather because I’m a Man United fan. “I’ll take you to see a real football club,” I joked.
Back in The Jungle, members of the group revealed to me that they regularly tried to make it to the UK by stowing away on the Eurotunnel. They would often disregard their own safety by taking part in this daring escapade in hope of a better life, even the death of other refugees while attempting to cross the channel failed to crush their determination for a better life.
Hearing Their Stories Of Torture And Genocide, I Thanked God I Wasn’t Born Where They Were
As the night drew on I was invited into some of the refugees tents. A Sudanese man began to explain to me why he’d left his country and alluded to some of the horrors he’d experienced before he fled.
The government and the Janjaweed started attacking the village at 5 or 4 in the morning, they started burning houses straightaway; there was no escape for children and old people. They captured me whilst I was looking for my siblings, took me to their camp and tortured me before I managed to escape
The deep scars across his nose from the torture was clear to see as he continued to describe the harrowing events that forced him to leave his country.
Africans in Sudan were subjected to harsh discrimination in education and the workplace by the ruling Arab-Sudanese government. They’d also had to deal with the civil war in Darfur, where genocide had been committed by the bloodthirsty Janjaweed militias – an Arab Nationalist group who pillaged towns and villages, murdering hundreds of thousands innocent African Sudanese in the process.
It was clear they’d experienced significant trauma even before their long and arduous journey from Africa, and through Europe to Calais.
Despite Suffering Soul-Crushing Hardship, These Kind Strangers Treated Me Like An Old Friend
The scent of traditional Sudanese food filled the air as we all went on to share positive stories from our respective homelands, swap photos of our family and crack some jokes. I discovered that many of these kind people were skilled professionals in their homelands: lawyers, civil engineers, and university students.
We kept on chatting into the night, until they all insisted that we sleep on the comfiest beds available and personally welcomed me to stay in their temporary shelter as if I were a long lost friend. Politely declining wasn’t an option, these guys were adamant that they’d do everything they could to make us feel at home, even going so far as making us Earl Grey tea to wake up to the next morning.
The spirit of these people was amazing, their determination to seek a better life is unrelenting, and their compassion in the face of great hardship is bewildering.
Their future remains uncertain, for now they will continue to live in limbo – clinging to the hope that they will one day make it to the UK. I just hope we treat them with an ounce of the humanity they showed me.