My half term holiday has been spent volunteering for the refugees in Calais. Although some might describe it as egotourism or volutourism, I see my trip as empowering, humanitarian and make positive change to society. I have been confronted with deeply conflicting thoughts about my time there. Was it worth travelling all the way to Calais to support the grass-roots movement or, at worse was it bourgeois curiosity to further stimulate dinner table conversation?
I arrived in Calais with three other friends, we made our way to our hostel and then onto the camp and volunteering centre. We spent the first few days in the warehouse, sorting and moving aid. Confusingly, I was still itching to see the refugee camp. Why? I needed validation to justify the work I was doing; to justify the charity raising I had completed in the UK and my work here, I needed to know that it all had meaning.
The current government's approach to the crisis on how the UK deals with this massive humanitarian crisis, has been somewhat confusing. The government is torn between showing solidarity and strict control on migration numbers. The government is now permitting 40,000 people to enter the country, yet this message is delivered with great resent. It's easy to see why there is a mixed public opinion when the message is oxymoronic. It's clear to see that the delivery of the message drastically informs the opinions it generates, is confusion the answer?
The messages of government are in large delivered by a politically biased media which represents the kind of opinion that reflects the interests of their readership. Reading right-leaning media leads to right-leaning opinions, same with left-leaning media and opinions. The readers' thoughts depend on the information they are given. Therefore, I found myself wondering: 'are my opinions and perspectives on the refugee crisis my own or are they the opinions of the person who is writing the articles?' To see through all the media nonsense of what was really happening in Calais I needed to get away from the UK, out of the warehouse and experience what the refugee camp was like, in person.
Fortunately, we had the opportunity to join a group from Stroud on our first face-to-face distribution the next day. For the first time, I was able to see the camp, witness the awful conditions these people live in, listen to the sad stories, empathise with their emotions and sympathise with the sheer brutality and severe nature of the camp. This moment brought deeper understanding to the crisis they are facing, one which could not be represented through media portrayals. Finally there was true meaning to the support being provided both at home and in the warehouse.
My half term holiday has taught me that refugees are people just like you and I, a simple fact often over looked. These people do not want to leave their communities; they are living in sub-human conditions and are coming to the UK in search of a humane, dignified life and to live without fear of death or persecution. It engaged me both emotionally and experientially, one which I can critically reflect on knowing that all thoughts and interpretations are my own. I find myself now thinking, how can I further engage those around me with this awful humanitarian crisis? How can I expand my support? Will this post have any effect on anyone else?