It was around three o’clock in the morning on Tuesday 12th July when the Megabus my friends and I were travelling from Belgium on came to a screeching halt. Being unable to sleep, sat bolt upright, and being too enraptured in the book I was reading, I was one of the lucky few that managed to brace myself before slamming face-first into the seat in front. There was a grumble of disapproval as those that had been uncomfortably awoken readjusted and attempted to fall back into a slumber where dreams of their coming-to-an-end-holiday could replace the harsh reality of sitting on a confined coach for twelve hours.
There were a few of us, myself included, however, that were slowly realizing why our coach had slammed to a halt. Behind us were dim silhouettes of people running towards the bus, to the side of us were more, scrambling frantically at the side of the coach. Before us was a felled tree, lying across the road. We were in Calais, and in a desperate bid to enter the United Kingdom, a few migrants had created a road block and were using the precious seconds pause of vehicles crossing the boarder, to somehow get aboard and conceal themselves; risking their life in the process. It was a matter of minutes before the police arrived and regained control over the situation; the trees were cleared, the migrants herded up like a flock of sheep, and our bus ushered on. As we passed the Calais Jungle – thousands of tents pitched so closely together they were practically on top of each other – we saw firefighters attempting to control two huge blazes that had been lit by the side of the road. It was chaos.
Having been to a fundraiser event for Good Chance, a charity that built a makeshift theatre in the heart of the Jungle, just a couple of days prior to going away, I wanted to learn more about the Calais Jungle and its fate. There are currently 6,000 refugees in the migrant camp on the boarder of Calais, with an estimated 82% risking their lives regularly to illegally cross the Channel and find refuge in the UK. The conditions of the camp have been described as ‘diabolical’, with a mixture of sewage, thick mud, and debris littering the small spaces between tents – around 61% of the migrants have health problems that only developed after their arrival in the Jungle.
The state of the camp has considerably worsened since the start of demolition undertaken by the French authorities earlier this year. On the day I returned to the UK, and began reading up on the camp, the Mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, announced that the demolition process will continue and that the Jungle will be destroyed ‘very soon’, she claimed that, due to economic and population pressures, the Jungle will be ‘torn down… as fast as possible’. An estimated 425 of the 6,000 refugees are unaccompanied minors. When the southern part of the camp was demolished in March of this year, the displaced migrants were forced to take refuge in shipping containers, which many charities have deemed ‘inadequate’. Many of the refugees have been forced to leave their home fleeing conflict – many escaping Syria due to the numerous air strikes the country was subjected to – and for the one place of safety, and opportunity to legally enter the UK, on the verge of collapse must be completely devastating.
The pressure the destruction of the Calais Jungle places on the UK to accept more refugees is potentially the only good thing to come of this – the UK government has pledged to accept 20,000 refugees by 2020, an embarrassing figure that pales in comparison to the 315,000 already accepted into Germany.
This is, however, unlikely given that our new, unelected Prime Minister Theresa May has stated; ‘So it is important that we redouble our joint efforts to protect our border, move migrants in the region into more suitable facilities in France, and return those not in need of protection to their home countries.’
If, unlike Theresa, you want to help in any way, Good Chance is a great charity, where you can simply donate money, volunteer or pledge items that you think might be useful – from a roll of duct tape to a minibus. http://goodchance.org.uk