Photo: ‘Border’, Maria Stadnicka, 12-September-2015
As the refugees’ crisis is widening across Europe, the public opinion becomes more polarised, with people supporting the Schengen agreement for settlement whilst others oppose the migration from the Middle East and Africa. In England, my decision to collect and deliver donations to Calais has been welcomed and facilitated by family, friends and work colleagues on one side, and criticised on another side on social media by a few online acquaintances which disagree with the idea of personal intervention in a problem that should be left to the international political factors. And this is how, on the way to Calais, the concept of ‘border’ started to emerge in my mind as my new British passport was scanned at Dover. Watching the ferry depart I thought of Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnographer which summarised a valid point on this matter. ‘Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people.’
With this is mind, I entered the refugees’ camp in Calais on Saturday and observed the difficult living conditions of thousands of mostly young men, lucky enough to have walked or travelled for weeks in search of stability and peace. Dreaming maybe to be accepted in Britain whilst waiting for help from a country which they see a promoter of fairness and humanity. Some have been there for months, others just weeks.
Thousands of tents were spread across the camp but there were people still living in cardboard shelters, in flip-flops and T-shirts with autumn coming and the rain slowly settling in during the next months. People I met looked at me with curiosity and friendliness. One welcomed me and asked if I had a good night on the way there. Another asked for a pair of shoes or trousers. And more and more slowly surrounded the van. But having just fifty boxes of supplies in the van made the distribution impossible. What about the people in need of supplies, which could not communicate in English, nor French, could not ask, could not arrive at the van, could not reach for my help?
People living in the camp need help and support, and donations are slowly going and are being distributed by very few charities and private companies as well as volunteers and locals. Packing and then safely and equally distributing food, clothing and other necessary materials to thousands of people is a process which takes time and logistics. This positive action can only be successfully delivered before winter comes with more help from volunteers and strong support from the international community. As the European budget is spent on numerous emergency summits, the conflict between decisional factors becomes apparent and the people involved in helping the refugees in Calais get a sense that the governments have no real understanding of what needs to be done on the ground.
The governments do not have understanding. But governments, with their complicated power structures, are not people. They are, at this point, the borders. Those volunteers spending their time and resources, dedicated night and day to help the refugees are my example of humanity as well as my hope. I have heard their names (Riaz, Maya, Christiane, Vincent, Clare, Toby) and their voices on the phone helping me help others. I have not seen their faces, nor their colour, but I have seen their actions, their beliefs and values, which made me write this to ask for yours.
Photo: Volunteers receiving donations for Calais refugees, John Stadnicki