DAY 182: First they came…

August 8th, 2016 § 0 comments

for the shopkeepers?

For the past year or so, ‘Calais’ to me has been not just a place, but a people under extreme hardship; the spirit of resistance; and the oppression which increasingly confronts it and tries to suppress the resistance and, if possible, to do away with the people. Nothing could sum this up better than this eloquent appeal by ‘Nik Nak’ against the latest move which makes the jungle a place both of less independence and of more danger. The prefecture has lodged a complaint to the Lille administrative court for the destruction of the shops in the jungle; the hearing will take place on August 10. I’ve already ‘shared’ the piece, and I hardly suppose that by posting it here I’m giving it wider circulation. But anyway.

My testimony to the French judge on the possible closure of the restaurants, shops and hamams in the Jungle.

Sunday 7/8/16 Calais Jungle Unofficial Refugee Camp.

Each person (and I say person) who lives in the jungle would like to be able to cook their own food in their own shelter. Each person (and I repeat: person) who breathes in the jungle would like to be able to take a ‘shower’ when they want to, in the privacy of their own home. Each person (each human being: with a heart and a soul and hopes, fears and dreams) in the jungle would like to be able to charge their mobile next to their bed so they can contact their family, without fear of it being stolen.

But the truth is, there are over 7000 people living in the jungle and this is just not possible.

I am a 34 year old woman from Scotland. I am a qualified English teacher with 12 years experience teaching students from all over the world and have been volunteering in the jungle since December 2015. For the past four months I have been living in the Calais Jungle (unofficial refugee camp). I am the coordinator at Jungle Books Library and School and have taught English and French to the children at the restaurantJungle Books Kids Restaurant.

I see and know personally, by face and name, hundreds of people who live in the jungle. I see and know how important the restaurants, shops and hamams are to each and every person who lives in the jungle.

For those who are not lucky enough to have a cooker or gas to cook their own food in their own homes, they go to the restaurants to eat.

For those who are not lucky enough to have a wooden shelter, and only have a tent, they go to the restaurants or shops to keep warm and dry when it’s cold and raining.

For those who are new arrivals, or have had their tents or shelters burned down in a fire (because they only have a candle for light), they go to the shops and the restaurants to sleep.

For those who are not able to walk 45 minutes into town (the sick, the old, the women and children) to buy food or top-up their mobiles, they buy something to eat or phone credit in the shops.

For those who do not want to stand in a line for hours, being made to feel sub-human, at risk of finding themselves in the middle of an argument or fight due to too many people of different cultures, languages and ways of behaving getting tired and fed up of waiting for a lukewarm cardboard plate of food which is not from their country, or a 5 minute shower which is only available at 9am; they try to regain what little sense of dignity and normality they can by using the restaurants and shops and hamams.

These restaurants, shops and hamams are not simply businesses.
They are community spaces; where people of different nationalities come together. They provide a safe space where people from different communities and cultures can meet and develop friendships, learn about each other; finding similarities and becoming more tolerant and understanding of each others’ differences.

The owners of these restaurants, shops shopsand hamams are not simply businessmen looking to get rich quick and become millionaires. They welcome anyone to come and charge their mobiles for free (refugees and volunteers alike). They serve warm chai to freezing cold hands on rainy days (and in Calais there have been many!) very often for free. They offer a quiet, private space to wash and to pray (something that is so very important to so many Muslims in this camp; allowing the individual to cleanse their body and mind, and helping them to stay strong when they feel weak), for free. They offer a safe place for people of different cultures to sit, relax, watch the news, speak to friends, play games and make jokes, without buying anything…for free. If owners of these ‘businesses’ see that a person cannot afford to pay for food or chai, they give it to them with a smile and a warm handshake…for free.

Since the police came three weeks ago, many of the shops, restaurants and hamams have closed.

The main street is more deserted at night; meaning a fire or an altercation goes unnoticed. Before, people would have joined together to help put out the fire or stop the fight.

The lines for food are longer; meaning the Auberge has had to start rationing food in order to serve everyone and there are still those who go hungry. At Jungle Books School we have increased the number of meals we give, as many students tell us they have not eaten a meal all day.

The lines for the showers at Jules Ferry are longer; meaning people have to wait in line, possibly with people that have scabies or other poor hygiene problems, feeling tired and dirty. People become very irritable and conflict in the lines is increased.

The spaces for charging phones at Jules Ferry are fewer; people already have to wait 3 or 4 hours by their phones while they are charging, so with no restaurants or shops offering free electricity, the need for space to charge phones and power banks at JF is much greater.

THE CHILDREN. The unaccompanied children in the jungle now have nowhere safe to go. Before they could spend all day in the Jungle Books Kids Restaurant; where meals were served FOR FREE twice a day, every day, to more than 200 children. Unaccompanied children cafeas young as 5 could take French and English classes, play pool or musical instruments, watch magicians, learn circus tricks, do arts and crafts, or just have somewhere to go to feel safe in a jungle full of mainly adult men.

Since the police confiscated all the food from the Kids’ Restaurant three weeks ago, the number of children coming to the restaurant has decreased. This has not been helped by the repeated searches and disruptions by the police each time they do a fresh sweep of the camp. The children (who are already traumatised by the events that forced them to flee their homes; their long, dangerous journeys to Calais and anything that has happened to them since leaving their mother, father and family and arriving in the jungle) now feel even more unsafe, not properly fed and not cared for.

So, as one Scottish woman with a British passport, living and volunteering in an unofficial refugee camp in France, one of the leading European countries, in 2016, I beg you to think so very carefully before making a decision that could mean that more than 7000 people’s lives become even more difficult and bleak.

Thank you for your time.

There are so many important distinctions being made here between the life which is constructed by the Calais refugees, under conditions of extreme difficulty, and bare existence – usually under repression: it’s a model of how to think about what we need and must demand.

To quote (it often occurs to me):

Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is cheap as beast’s.

I’m leaving out the bit where Lear refers to being a poor old man etc, (my particular concern) : youth as well as age is vulnerable in the camp. And  I’m leaving for later my thoughts on the distinction between society and ‘bare life’ in Agamben’s sense. But, to make a point about the distinction, let’s hear the Calais women’s choir (whose church has been bulldozed, would you believe it? Of course you would) singing ‘Halleluyah

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