Continuing our Fabian Review series on the refugee crisis, year 11 student Boogie Thompson shares her experience of visiting the Calais jungle
People have been asking me how Calais was. I stutter and say it was eye-opening or interesting.
But this is not what I really saw. I was picking up dead rats. I saw people living in conditions that we would be ashamed to keep rodents in. I met humans who just wanted to learn and to see their family. They do not want to leave their house in the morning, because they are worried if they will return. The people I met do not want pity: they are so desperate, they jump on lorries day and night.
But that is not what I tell people when they ask how Calais was, because it would be awkward to say, and how would they reply? People don’t want to feel the guilt of turning a blind eye, of doing nothing.
So, no. It wasn’t fun. It was shameful to know that when I had finished or had enough, I could take a nice, long, warm shower while the refugees had to get by washing with hoses on the ground and going to portaloos covered in faeces from overuse. As I was driving home, I saw my house and burst into tears, what we have is so much more than we need, yet we still say we don’t have the time to help or the money.
During the EU referendum I saw sign after sign saying ‘Take Britain Back’. But from who? Are we talking about the people “stealing our jobs” or the ones who are fleeing war and persecution? You see, I get a bit confused.
Refugees leave their countries, their homes, because they want safety. They want to be able to leave their houses in the morning without fearing that they may never return, they want to get out of a cycle of violence; just by remaining in their country, they are risking becoming one of the many millions of victims. Families want to see their children go to school with carefree laughter and worries stretching merely to the next spelling test. They want to live their lives in the way that every human deserves.
To get to safety what would you do? Risk your life? It seems pretty ironic. Yet, that is what millions of people have done to try and get away from their daily death threat.
Last year, it is estimated that 3,500 people died in the Mediterranean Sea, notice the word ‘estimate’. These people are so scared that they are willing to be lost in a sea of statistics where they may never be given a name. Recently, I went to the Calais Jungle to volunteer over the weekend. I met a man who had travelled over the Mediterranean Sea in a boat. This boat was filled with people in the same situation; escaping war and possible persecution. This would have included women, children, men and humans with established lives and families. The boat sank. He was the only survivor. He is now living with mental illness most likely due to his traumatic experiences.
If they are lucky enough to get to the other side of the sea, they face hatred and xenophobia: the preferred option to being deported. I was asked by a man “Why are you keeping us here?” when I went into the ‘Calais Jungle’. How do you reply to that? It’s a question that I think even those who are actively stopping help getting to the refugees can’t answer. In our day to day lives, we don’t see the families eating dinner around a makeshift table of driftwood, or the man inviting people into his shack for a cup of sweet tea, nor how they laugh and live and hope. We don’t see any of that, only our misunderstanding and blame.
So. They are different, just as I am different to you. But none of us can be defined by that.