Monday, 24 October 2016

Calais diary, Oct 14 - False alarms

A school in the Jungle

A cap is being tested in the quality check of the Warehouse

It WASN'T the official date, October 24. To think that it would be this hard to avoid falling for rumors!...

What had officially happened though, was that all restaurants and shops in the Jungle* had been given a written notice that they have to leave the area, or they will be demolished. Apparently this warning must be given at least 48 h in advance, which means that as from 2:30 pm today, the restaurants and shops could legally be demolished.

When it had almost turned 2:30 today, one of our volunteer leaders came in to us who were in the Belgium Kitchen (the community kitchen that serves free dinner to all the refugees every day, not to be confused with a restaurant) and said rather stressed that there were a great number of police cars on the bridge outside the Jungle and they had two water cannons with them, so it seemed they were going to start demolishing today and apparently they expected trouble. Therefore we had to interrupt our onion chopping and potato pealing and let ourselves be hurdled out from the Jungle, to spend the rest of the day at the Warehouse of l'Auberge.

In the minibus on the way to the Warehouse, I said:
"That was the last time we saw the Jungle as we know it", and felt intensely that I wanted to hug somebody and cry.

I spent the rest of the day sorting donations to be handed out to refugees. When the working day was over, I asked the person who had picked us from Belgium Kitchen if she had any news about what had happened after we left. She had. Nothing had happened... The second false alarm in two days, and I cannot do it!! There was some talk that there had been a demonstration for open borders planned for this day but that for some reason it hadn't happened, and that maybe that's why the police had mobilized, but what do I know... Maybe they just want to break us down? It's working pretty well, in that case...

My great, wonderful partner came and hugged me while passing by, and in his arms I felt how it burst. The crying broke out. Then he walked on, before I had time to communicate that I probably needed him a bit longer, so I ended up sitting in a chair hugging my backpack. After a while he came back and saw that I was sad, so he hugged me again, longer, and now I cried even more... Why, why, why are our societies so cruel? Why don't we remember our Geneva convention which states that people must be allowed asylum from war and persecution? Why can we only demolish and destroy, but not build up and welcome?

Because of course, even if there wasn't any demolition done today, it will still come. Mattias said that it would be a good strategy for them to take down the restaurants and shops first and use lots of force, so that they make an example, while also destroying some of the infrastructure of the camp. Both these things mean that both the inhabitants and the volunteers become less inclined to defend the Jungle later, when they come to demolish the actual accommodation tents. Another volunteer added later that it however was too early to take down the restaurants now. It's better 3-5 days before the eviction, so that people don't have time to reorganise and build up something again in between.

That is, the restaurants and shops will probably be demolished next week. Because there was after all some basis for this date, October 24. This is the date that a big shelter will open in Paris, and before this opens the government has no place to put the thousands of refugees, even those of them who want to apply for asylum in France.

I woke up screaming a few nights ago. I sat up straight and screamed in full panic, just like my 6-year-old back at home. I don't think I've had a single nightmare for 10-15 years, and screamed I haven't done since I was a kid. And hardly like this, even then. I dreamed that I was in the Jungle. I remember what I dreamed, but it was rather abstract. I did not dream about police or violence, rather of ghosts or aliens... But I certainly screamed. Yes, volunteering with refugees without the right to asylum, without the right to be reunited with their families, and nowadays often without shoes, warm clothes or blankets in the ever colder weather, is much, much harder than volunteering with the miserably poor people of Kenya. Sure, the people I worked with in Kenya were quite destitute, and many of them silently hated their lives and longed for a different one, but they were not desperate. And there were, after all, many things in their lives that they loved, and would have sorely missed had they actually made it away from there...

But nobody will ever say:
"Oh, how I miss my time of fleeing! Oh, how I miss not knowing where to go, not knowing where I could turn to so that I wouldn't be sent back to the war in Sudan or Afghanistan or some other place! Oh, how I miss the feeling of never being welcome anywhere! Of that my death would be a relief for them, ridding them of the burden of my life in their countries..."

Note: By now we know that the eviction in any case started on the 24th of October

*The Jungle = The informal settlement in Calais where thousands of refugees live in tents and home made shelters, many after having tried to go to the UK but failed

(To be continued)

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