I have visited the refugee camp “the jungle” in Calais several times over the past twelve months.
The site is a former asbestos dump on a floodplain, near the highway to England in Calais, France.
I went there to see for myself what was happening there. I felt there was so much “spin” from governments, media and NGOs that it was difficult to get a clear picture of who the refugees were and what conditions they were living in.
I found human beings just like myself. People running from war and violence. I found people who actually did not exist because they had no paperwork. I found people in need of compassion and care who were bombarded by rules and stigma.
I sat with them and they welcomed me in the most humbling and touching way. It is true to say they, with the warmth of the welcome, and the closeness of their hugs brought this struggling Australian “in from the cold”.
It did not matter that I was of a different ethnic or religious background to them. Every person I met treated me with love, courtesy and respect. I have to say I did not find that in the Government authorities or many (not all by any means) of the locals who simply saw them as pests.
I came across refugees from Iraq, Palestine, Ethiopia, Iran, too many warzones to mention. In all cases I found loving acceptance.
Going to the jungle as often as I have has changed my life irrevocably for the better.
Over time, I have noticed the effects of treating human beings like caged animals. Once warm welcoming people became hostile and suspicious aliens.
In the jungle I came across many unaccompanied minors. They had attached themselves to similar groups of older people but were painfully alone. They were a huge worry to me as one-third of all refugee children arriving in Europe are unaccompanied minors.
I know the biggest industry, whether legal or illegal, in the world today is child-trafficking. I am intimately caught up with this in many countries so I know what I am saying.
The French authorities will say, the clearing of the jungle is to move the refugees into the provinces. However, the provinces do not want them and so God knows how this will end up. I am pretty certain the ones who will not benefit from this are the refugees themselves.
The last time part of the jungle was “cleared” by authorities, nearly 200 refugee children went missing and to this day no-one knows what has happened to them. We know it was not good.
We know there are over one thousand such children in the jungle needing somewhere to go. Britain has so far taken a miserly 100 or so and already that small number is proving to be contentious. The outcome is not looking good.
I worry for the friends I have made there and what will happen to them. I myself felt intimidated by the attitudes and behaviour of the French authorities. I consider myself to be a good friend of France and find myself today in a state of despair over what is happening in the jungle.