20/12/2015 12:28 GMT | Updated 20/12/2016 05:12 GMT

Remember the People, Not Just the Stats, at the Jungle


It is perhaps too easy, at times of great distress, to forget what lies at the heart of the great crises of our times.

When we in the Green Party talk about climate change, it is possible to be drawn into a debate about temperatures and statistics, when what we are really talking about is people - and the plants and other animals with which we share the planet.

When we talk about inequality, we can be dragged into debate about what measures should be used to measure poverty, and about the level at which the living wage must be set, when what we should be talking about is people, the challenges they face, and how best to help them.

As a society, we have somehow been drawn into the idea that when we talk about Syria we should take a side, about who can or should 'win', when what we should be talking about is people, and how their lives can be saved.

And so it is with the international refugee crisis. In amongst the conversations about borders, about the EU's central administration and organisation, about refugee and immigration policy, too often the thing that gets overlooked, the matter which slips some people's minds, is the people.

I have recently returned to the UK from a visit to The Jungle, the refugee camp at Calais, where 6,000 people are attempting to prepare for a bitter European winter, with nothing more than a thin, nylon one- or two-person tent to protect them against sub-zero temperatures.

The camp is shocking. Talking to volunteers who are working to attempt to help make people's lives a little better, I discovered that because of lack of water and food, there are people whose wounds are not healing; that contamination of the water supply threatens widespread disease, and that these things, combined with the threat posed by winter's harsh conditions, threaten thousands of deaths in the next four months.

This would be unacceptable wherever it was. But this is taking place at a camp perched between the UK and France, the world's fifth and sixth-richest states. As such, it is shameful.

The camp is populated by people who are qualified engineers, electricians, translators and construction workers. They are people who have worked before in the UK, and who are desperate to do so again.

One Iraqi Kurd I met had an English wife and two small children he was desperate to reach.

He told me: 'I do not want a life where I just wake up, then sleep, then wake up again, then sleep. I want to work again, to be useful. I need my wife and my children, and they need me.'

I asked again and again why people were not being allowed to the UK. Every time, I discovered they had not been turned down - they had been unable even to apply. The UK government is not using its stringent asylum process to decide whether or not to allow people into the country, it is turning its back on people, preventing them even from applying. In doing so, it is trapping people in a place where thousands could die.

At the Jungle, we must act now, to make sure people can apply for the asylum they need, and provide decent places for them to stay while their applications are processed.

And internationally, we must remember that the numbers and statistics it presents are people, and the challenges they face.

We must save lives, where we can. And at the Jungle, we can.