Our last day in Calais. We helped clean up the warehouse in the morning.
In the afternoon we returned to the school, giving a lift to two other volunteers who were keen to see what they could usefully donate to the school when back in England.
Teaching the basics of language was easy but learning of these peoples’ life stories was heart wrenching.
These were journeys by nineteen, twenty, twenty two year olds who had fled the bloodshed in Sudan, crossed Libya, Italy and France by boat, coach and foot.
One had walked constantly for four days through Italy, only to be beaten and sent back south to his starting point by police on two occasions. He had crossed the sea on a boat with only room for one leg inside, the other dangled in the sea amongst large fish. Another had walked along the underground tracks to avoid the beatings and ejection from trains by Italian police. All had slept rough along the way for usually only two or three hours a day.
These people had achieved what I felt to be impossible, yet the miles of fortified steel fence enveloping the Calais docks were insurmountable even for these heroes. This four metre high barrier topped with coils of razor wire and CCTV, with the gates and exterior guarded by heavily armed French riot police was paid for by my (and your) taxes to keep these brave and resourceful people from entering great Britain.
SPOT THE DIFFERENCE…
Why does progressive European opinion abhor Donald Trump’s idea of building a wall along the US-Mexican border, the Berlin Wall of the iron curtain era, the dividing walls of Northern Ireland or the Israeli Apartheid wall but can acquiesce to fortress Europe/Britain?
As we approach home, driving through Bradford, the empty mills and offices impose a stark reminder that Yorkshire/Humber has over 77,000 empty properties, enough to house all of the city’s homeless and the Jungle residents before we even think about the 610,000 empty properties across the whole of England (Empty Homes, 2015).
A silver lining flickers through my dialectical cloud as I reflect on the committed folk I met in Calais who had travelled from across the UK, Ireland, Poland, Spain, the US and elsewhere to resist racism by showing solidarity and compassion and offering help and hope to the refugees.
I’m also reminded of the hundreds of thousands of citizens currently rallying to Jeremy Corbyn‘s call for a more humane, fair and equal society, the popularity of Bernie Sanders in the US who has berated the rich and powerful, the rise of the Podemos movement in Spain, the Syriza party in Greece – before its aspirations were crushed by the EU institutions and the banks. Amidst the horrors of 21st century capitalism, there are millions seeking ways to participate in change.
As we toiled away in the Care4calais warehouse, unpaid, unfettered from hierarchy, management or vested interests we experienced a genuine flourishing of cooperation, productivity and camaraderie – a microcosmic hint that another world is possible.
I shall round up my reflections with Lowkey’s latest track, ‘Ahmed’ – an emotive, moving dissection of the Syrian refugee crisis and the mass desensitisation that we’ve seen in its aftermath.