A weekend in Calais.
Recently Lily Allen made a trip to Calais with Help Refugees/Calais Kitchens to shine a media coloured flash light on what's happening there. This weekend, we made the same trip to work in the Calais Kitchens, which is part of L'Auberge des Migrants, who are under the same umbrella of charities such as Help Refugees.
For those of you not up to date with current World news, there are around 10,000 desperate refugees in the 'camp', which has been nicknamed the "jungle". Occupants of the camp at the time included 1022 unaccompanied minors and a reportedly 200 or so women.
Just so you know, this is not meant to be a political blog. Although I somewhat agreed with Lily Allen, and was more than happy to let her apologise on behalf of me. Does apologising mean we take all the blame? Isn't that what the English do? Apologise when someone is sad?
"My cat died,"
"Oh, I'm sorry."
Doesn't mean I killed it.
I am not qualified or anywhere near as informed to discuss this but I will today as its about the lives of 10,000 refugees. People who are brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, someone's child - Fellow human beings. Although, from what I see, not being treated as such.
Most of these refugees want to come to the UK. A lot have family over here. We are better at offering asylum over France who rejects around 3/4 of its applicants. For anyone "lucky" enough to have their application taken seriously, they are placed in a detention centre - a jail if you like - despite committing no crime, while they wait months to have their fate decided.
From the little I saw, they wouldn't want to stay in France, and I do not blame any of them. The police are reported to intimidate the camp, throw tear gas at them and steal the shoes off of the men when they have annoyed them.
FYI: This is why the charities set up are often desperate for shoes. Shocking isn't it?
The camp is a mixture (mostly of men) from Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iran and Iraq - all fleeing war torn countries, desperate for safety, work and to be reunited with family. Desperate to be treated as people, desperate for basic human rights. Why is it mostly men? Well, its men who are asked to fight with terrorist organisations. It's also an incredibly dangerous journey to undertake, but these men hope, that by reaching the UK they can arrange for any children back home to be sent to join them. There's more in this piece from The Guardian. A lot of these men are skilled engineers, mechanics, builders. Some are still studying and want to continue doing so when, or if they make it.
These people are fleeing their home to take dangerous trips across Europe in desperation, traipsing through 7 or 8 countries sometimes, so they can try and have something that resembles a life. They are running away from dictators, terrorism, poverty and death. One friend of Isabel's, the comedy writer and tireless fundraiser who I went with, was from South Sudan. He refused to join the militia, so was made to watch his wife and child be executed in front of him, beaten, he was then forced to join - but ran away to make the horrid journey, country hopping to Calais. I'm sure if he ever makes it here the press will advertise he was in the militia once.
He told my friend it was the first time he had done anything 'illegal'. He is desperate to get asylum in the UK so he can get his only remaining child over to join him. I for one, want them here.
Knowing people want to come to our shores makes me proud. I am proud to be British with all our mixed up heritage.
This weekend, I wasn't so proud.
I was fundraising like some kind of fundraising addict all last week, in the hope to take £7,000 to the Calais Kitchens (we did BTW *tiny cheer*), money they desperately need to send food parcels into the camp that will allow the refugees to cook for themselves with a semblance of dignity. It takes roughly £21,000 a week to feed everyone seeking refuge. I work in comedy, so luckily a few well known comedians shared my link on Twitter. Christian O'Connell and Jason Manford. (Cheers lads). It was with Christian's tweet that Pointless legend Richard Osman kindly retweeted, but I certainly didn't expect to see the replies I got. I have no care for these fuckwits, so I will happily attach them here. Strap in. (PS: Sorry for language)
Where is the humanity in any of this? Yes they are mostly men. Yes, perhaps it shouldn't be "our problem" to fix. Yes, maybe some of them are doing illegal things, probably for the first time in their life, in a desperate attempt just to get a better one. When did we become a country of Katie Hopkins? I thought we all laughed at her? Was that just me? Did we change the joke? Genuinely, all I first tweeted was a link to our JustGiving page. That's it.
We had read in the run up to going to Calais that the mood in camp was incredibly tense. The French prime minister, Manuel Valls had come out and said he was demolishing the site. 10,000 people can't vanish away with some washed up tents, so this would only mean more chaos.
What I now know, through various volunteers, that on Friday officials asked for all children to come to the meeting area to speak to someone from the UK - only to be turned away and told to come back Monday.
I know that restaurants made by the campers to cook and make money from people visiting the camp were given eviction notices by the french police in the most distressing manner.
I know that I was grilled entering and leaving France by the borders and had my car searched for 10 minutes.
I know that France said they would turn away aid workers for 'posing a threat to public order.' Making out volunteers were heading to Calais to protest not fundraise.
I know that 120 full time volunteers who go to camp daily to deliver food and supplies say the mood has changed and people are starting to run away due to fear of being put in to detention or worse, being deported back home.
I know that the police have stopped the Calais Wood Yard taking in pieces of wood unless they're chopped up into tiny piece in a cruel attempt to prevent the camp from building any structures. Heaven forbid they want something sturdier than a friggin' tent.
I know that a life, regardless of the colour of their passport, their sex, gender or age; is a life and this cannot and should not continue.
My heart breaks for the people living in the Calais camp, the people living in the dangerous countries and the people who have lost their families and loved ones to war.
My heart breaks for those people lonely and scared, desperate to live in a country that accepts them and allows them to work.
My heart breaks for the volunteers who take cold showers daily and live in caravans, working 8 hour days, 6/7 day weeks to try and help someone have some dignity in an undignified situation.
But my heart also breaks for the people who comment online, stating that we should sink the boats, complaining that this isn't our problem and moaning about the UK taking in people. My heart breaks for these people because they are no longer looking at those living in the camp as people, and that's the worst thing anyone can do.
To anyone thinking you are above this, that your life is worth more, that you don't want or need to help anyone in this world, I pity you. This is one world, just the one. And we're breaking it.
Now, I know I can only talk for myself on this one. I know I don't have all the answers on what we can do to stop all this, but to to all the refugees in the world, I am sorry too.
If you would like to donate to the Calais Kitchen or the less sexy woodyard (who are in desperate need for donations for tools) please do so here:
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