Welcome to the Jungle
The Refugee and Migrant crisis in Europe has once again been sharply in focus with the demolition of the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. Earlier this year, my friend Steve Rough visited Calais to build shelters for Refugees and asylum seekers. This post draws on Steve’s experiences of the ‘Jungle’ and entries from his journal, reflecting on a crazy few days where his perceptions of reality took quite a kicking…
Steve arrived in Calais by boat on the 8th January and was immediately struck by the police presence. His first experience of ‘The Jungle’ came later that evening when, along with some other volunteers, he “…experienced the sights, sounds and smells” of the Jungle.” Steve told me “…there are loads of shops and cafes that have been set up by migrants.” He spoke to Pakistanis and Syrians, some of whom have lived in England but were deported (one man admitted fearing for his life in Pakistan because of the Taliban). The conditions were awful, “It’s cold and muddy, and nobody has shoes.”
The signs that things were going to get nasty were already there, “The police want to move around 1,000 refugees and the pressure is on because the new site isn’t anywhere near being ready yet.” Steve reported that “If the refugees don’t move in time, the site will be bulldozed and I think they [the police] might start using tear gas to shift people.”
“The Jungle is so different during the day. You get to see just how big (and bad) it is: There is water and mud everywhere, broken tents flapping around, wet clothes stuck in the mud, human poo on the floor as it’s too horrible to use the portable toilets. There is broken up Asbestos all over the place and really young children running around and playing in all this mess- I saw a group of boys no older than four playing and climbing on top of a half-built shelter. I helped them onto my friends’ shoulders and persuaded them not to play on it as it was very unsafe. I later found them chasing each other around with a knife they had found, using it as if it was a toy!”
Despite only being able to sleep for five-and-a-half hours each night, Steve leaned on God and the church community at home, “Please pray for more energy today as I work. Pray the Mafia will give us permission to relocate the refugees that have to be moved today. Pray for the weather to be good- we have a lot of refugees to help relocate and it is forecast heavy rain. Pray for the police not to use the tear gas tank they brought in last night and that they give us enough time to move everyone’s shelters before they bulldoze the area. I’d also like pray for the thief I came across last night in the camp. Pray that he has an opportunity to meet with God and can find another way for him to exist in ‘The Jungle’. Pray for my two volunteer friends that have been asking questions about God; please pray they get to know him this week.”
We only have a few days to move over 1,500 people and hundreds of shelters and tents, before the police bring in the bulldozers.
A lot of people refused to move because the Jungle was their home and it’s all they have. They’d built communities around their huts- churches, shops and restaurants built out of what ever they could find- but that wasn’t enough to stop the police tear gassing the site and flattening it.
People called Steve a hero… and he hated it. He’s still coming to terms with what he saw in Calais. Experiences like this mark you forever and challenge what you think reality is. I hope that this post- as a written account of some of Steve’s experience- will do the same for you in some small way. As we enter this dark week of the Christian year, perhaps there is some space for reflection on the death of Jesus and the human crisis that is still developing in our times.