The hell of refugees in Calais: we can't see them, so we don't think of them
The hell of refugees near Calais: we can’t see them, so we don’t think of them.
By Nick Harvey
A group of 20-30 Syrians were living in a ditch, near Calais, in the countryside. © Medecins du Monde
10-year-old Syrian children with no parents are living under very simple covers in wet ditches in the countryside near Calais, France.
I met these children recently when I went to see how the charity I work for (Doctors of the World) helps the migrants in Calais. There are about 2,000 migrants, and it is like hell.
Most people know about the famous ‘Jungle’ where most of the migrants live near the port in Calais. But not many people know about the other places around the area. There are about 20 more places.
The first one I saw was in an old recycling yard. We saw he big yellow letters, ‘WE WANT FREEDOM.’
Inside, it was hell. There was rubbish and lots of graffiti on the walls, and some tents and groups of men. Most of the men were from Darfur, some from Syria and Afghanistan. They were standing in small groups around fires playing cards. Everything smelt of wood smoke.
Hussein, from Darfur, spent eight days in the sea going from Libya to Italy. He had no food and water for three days.
‘They will kill me if I try to go back,’ he said. ‘David Cameron says “England is the best” and I believe him. So that’s where I’m going!’
Another group of about 100 migrants live in a field behind a supermarket. After three days of rain, the ground was mud. There was no running water or toilets and they told me that the migrants were not allowed to go in the supermarket.
The migrants who lived there wore flip-flops and thin summer jackets, but they said hello with smiles and handshakes.
‘London is the best city in the world!’ said Samir, an electrician from Darfur, after he heard where we were from. Part of his journey was two weeks crossing the Sahara Desert with little food.
‘What is it like living here? I asked.
‘It is so terrible here,’ he said, but he smiled.
We had to drive a long way into the countryside to a place near St Omer to visit the last, and most shocking, settlement. A group of 20-30 Syrians were living in a ditch.
We walked down the wet, muddy lane in the rain. It was hard to believe anyone was living there. On the left were fields, now just mud. On the right were bushes leading down into a long ditch. I looked silly with my trousers turned up to the knees to stop getting muddy.
When we got closer a group of boys came out of the bushes, with an adult. They saw our charity logo, so they came under our umbrella. Only the adult spoke. They were all from Aleppo. The boys stood with bare feet on top of their wet, muddy shoes. I stopped thinking about my trousers.
The boys were aged between 10 and 15 and were muddy and dirty. They were all there without their families. The 10-year-old had scabies.
They took me down into the ditch under the shelters to a small fire. They camped in this place away from everywhere because there was a service station nearby where they could try to get on trucks.
‘There is so much we don’t have here,’ the adult told me. ‘But it is better than Aleppo.’
He added: ‘But we will not be here long’.
My French colleague later told me that many people say this, but it is not true. Maybe they need to believe this, but it usually takes many months to cross the Channel.
So how can children live for a long time in muddy ditches in a rich ‘civilized’ country like France?
Part of the reason is that many of the refugees do not trust authorities. This is mostly because of their experience with the French police, often the first people the children go to.
People talk about problems with the police. For example, they arrest migrants, including women, and drive them long distances and then leave them by the motorway, so they have to walk back. Police often destroy the phones of the migrants, often the only connection they have to their families. They also hit them.
‘They come early in the morning and make us run away across the fields,’ says the adult. ‘When we come back all our things are broken’.
Walking back up the muddy path, I felt wet and cold. I was sick of the mud and I really wanted to change my shoes and get in the car. I looked round at the boys in the rain; the youngest one was waving and I felt it was wrong to leave them there.
In my warm hotel room, I watched the rain through the window. I knew they were still there, only a few kilometres away. On the news that night, there were reports from Syria and Sierra Leone, but nothing about the very real crisis here in Europe, just a short drive away from England.
Doctors of the World (Medecins du Monde) gives medicine and hygiene kits to migrants in Calais and they build toilets and washing facilities.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2014/11/13/refugees-calais-purgatory/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed.)