Last night I got back to the hostel and discovered I had a really interesting new roommate. Yasmine Bouagga is a researcher with the National Centre For Scientific Research in France. She lives in Paris and teaches at a university in Lyon. She is doing ethnological research in the camp. My pre-MA mind is spinning in excited circles. I really want to talk to her but have arranged to meet the dried food team for a farewell pizza.
Fortunately, Yasmine does not believe in early nights and we both return later and sit chatting on our beds till 1 a.m. She is producing papers and a chapter for a book from her research in the camp. I try and absorb everything she is saying into my exhausted grey matter. We swop email addresses and Facebook details so I will get to hear when her work is published. I look at some of the work she has done with a cartoonist that is published in Le Monde, a national French newspaper. The cartoons portray life in the camp for the refugees. The French love a cartoon and this is a good way to convey some of her research to the public.
There is so much concern about the forthcoming demolition of the camp. The authorities are giving no details to the charities, so it is hard to help the refugees prepare for the future. The charity has put out calls for emergency supplies of tents, rucksacks, rolling suitcases and mobile phones to help people leave with dignity and stay in touch with the emergency services and their families.
Yasmine assures me that the police can’t just go into the camp without giving a certain number of weeks notice. I tell her of Libby’s fear of being there when they arrive and not knowing where to go with the children. She tells me that it is unlikely any volunteers will be let within 3kms of the Jungle when the eviction and demolition start.
I am feeling really wobbly about leaving today. I come in on a conversation between a fellow dried food volunteer and a long term volunteer. They are talking about the eviction. I offer Yasmine’s reassurances but am put down firmly by the long-term volunteer. She was present when the police demolished part of the camp in February.
She tells me that law and human rights were ignored. Shacks were knocked down with people’s belongings still inside, pregnant women were hit, children were struck with batons and tear gas was used at close range, to list just a few abuses of human rights. My friend, a strong Scottish woman, dissolves into sobs. My eyes stream and I walk away. I don’t want to believe this, or that it could happen again.
No wonder the refugees want to come to the UK. They believe we have a democratic society where human rights are respected. Yasmine told me the story, last night, of one adolescent who had tried to get to the UK five times, each time risking his life. He said when the French police catch him they spray tear gas right in his face, beat him and verbally abuse him when they pull him from a lorry. When caught at the UK border control he was spoken to politely, held in a room but offered a prayer mat, a Koran and haloumi sandwich before being sent back into the hands of the French authorities. I am so proud of the English police and so sickened by what I hear of the French CRS.
My friends want to go back to Jungle Books this evening, but Dave and Clare have gone home and no one drives. I speak French so I order them a taxi. I wish I were going with them.
My eye is on the clock as I fill bags with flour. I need to leave in time to catch the 4 o’clock bus. I am feeling strangely nervous about leaving. Turning my back on this place feels so sad. In the end I go a little early to get it over with.
I have only been here a week, but from the moment I say goodbye to the dried food team in Calais Kitchen and walk through the warehouse gates my heart turned to mush. Face dusted with flour and streaked with tears, I must have appeared a terrifying apparition to the bus driver.
Many of my friends have returned to the UK now, but the long-term volunteers remain with a new dried food team.
I receive an email from Helen, who has returned home to her little boy. She tells me the taxi never turned up to take them to the Jungle. Other taxi firms made excuses.
They went down to the beach that night, and Jean Marc told them of his day in the First Aid tent. One man had come in with a smashed kneecap. His knee had come into contact with a police boot.
Jean Marc is concerned about how the refugees will manage if they have to walk far after the eviction. Some refugees arrive at the camp without shoes and even, occasionally, without shirts. These have been taken by police who take the refugees into custody at Calais railway station before releasing them into the Jungle. Recently, refugees who have attempted to go in to Calais have had their boots and phones taken by police before being told “Allez Jungle”, and sent back to the camp. Those that still have their boots them wear them day and night for fear they will be stolen. They end up with foot problems, particularly if the boots are wet and caked with mud.
I don’t know if the Sudanese and Afghan men I met, are still in the camp or what their futures hold. The refugees have faced so much fear, loss and trauma in their own countries, made hard and terrifying journeys and now face eviction from the Jungle. The conditions are dreadful, but there is some food, safety and shelter. There is support and a semblance of community – and there are books.
I can’t imagine how the French authorities are going to organize shelter for 10,000 people. They haven’t sorted accommodation for the unaccompanied children yet. But the demolition has to go ahead. There is a presidential election around the corner and President Hollande wants the Jungle cleared.
I am told that those who agree to get on the “mystery buses” and seek asylum in France don’t know where they are going, and nor do the charities. Those that refuse will be “hunted out of Calais” and scattered. It will be extremely difficult to reach and help them.
On the 18th October, The Lille Tribune gave the go-ahead for the camp to be closed down. Apparently, “it considered that the principle of the plan involved no intention to cause inhuman or degrading treatment”.
I watch the news, read www.calaidpedia and pray for all concerned. May all be safe and unharmed. Behind those wires are people.