The refugee camp in Calais is the living manifestation of the hypocrisy and the lack of compassion affecting western society. The indifference and lack of compassion shown towards the desperate situation of theses asylum seekers is patent of the level of alienation and selfishness inherent in our society today. Wide spread alienation causes this society to not realize how it influences and instigates at times, many of the social calamities that create this crisis, and all the mutually beneficial outcomes of this wave of immigration, and selfishness leaves us cold to the plight of these refugees. It is time for a serious revaluation of how we deal with cases such as Calais and how this impairs our basic notions of humanity and to think of its long term effects before we are trapped in a downward spiral of our own device.
This essay is an attempt to document the development of this camp since late summer 2015 and how this people’s dignity has been systematically assailed by our lack of compassion and solidarity, it is also an attempt to show the resilience of the human spirit and its fight to preserve dignity. I have omitted the names and nationalities of many individuals portrayed here upon their request and information that could lead to the identification of people’s places of origin. They fear that if their name and place of origin is known by the French government they will be deported. The French government has adopted a policy of deportation for those coming from countries it does not considers to be in a state that proves dangerous for its population, places such as Iraq and Sudan where genocide is taking place. The Geneva convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that "No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion" (Article 33(1)) are being held hostage by pragmatics, some have argued that the complex nature of 21st century refugee relationships calls for a new treaty, that recognizes the evolving nature of the nation-state and modern warfare, but how can human rights become outdated when they have been drafted to preserve the dignity of a person? Most of the refugees refuse to apply for asylum in France due to their resolve to make it to England, they have also been deferred by the less than hospitable treatment they have received from the local authorities and the French police. Most of the refugees in the north of France have no more resources to move on further so they wait for the increasingly difficult possibility to cross the tunnel onto their promised land being stuck in deplorable conditions in refugee camps, they’re not in France and they’ll probably never make it to Britain. The hesitation of local authorities to give aid in fear of encouraging a permanent settlement was unjustified from the beginning seeing as how refugee settlements have existed for nearly twenty years in Calais, this is the fourth location and the one that has seen the greatest number of refugees, at some point more than six thousand people lived there, in a few months the settlement turned into a slum but communities were formed and to many of these refugees it was the only point of support in this horrid ordeal that persisted even in European soil.
Their day is frittered away standing in lines either to have access to for these services or to receive donations of clothes and basic need items such as toilet paper and personal hygiene items. Chemical latrines have been placed by the local authorities in throughout the camp but hygiene is still very poor causing a dysentery epidemic. Some coordinated responses have been provided such as medical aid by the NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres and Medecins Du Monde, and the construction of wooden shelters by MSF along with Refugee Response Foundation among other organizations, meals and showers are also provided by the Jules Ferry community center, a governmental organization along with other kitchens organized by citizen organizations but despite this support conditions are still comparable to those of refugee camps in Africa. Diseases related to the harsh living conditions such as Measles are rife and injuries incurred during attempts to cross over to England either through the tunnel or under trucks are common. Not to mention all the deaths kept quiet by the French government and the rumors of people disappeared in their attempts to cross over to England, either in the hands of police or extreme right thugs.
Despite all of the uncoordinated efforts, substantial gaps remained to complete the assistance necessary to afford these people a dignified subsistence. Most of them are fighting states of mental depression caused by their predicament. They risked their lives believing in Europe they would find security and a dignified life, it hasn't been the case thus far and it seems that now the French government has had enough of the bad publicity and has decided to erase the stain from its territory, as if the influx of refugees is going to suddenly stop, as if there weren’t hundreds still trying to make it across European borders and whose numbers will only increase as the weather in the Mediterranean improves allowing for more frequent crossings. It’s like sweeping a room and shoving it under the rug, it’s an affront to our humanity and we will pay dearly for it.
© Daniel Botelho