Once a week, I have started to go out on “maraude” with Utopia 56, driving their water truck which provides water (obviously) and phone charging facilities. This begins, for me, at the end of my usual 12-hour day with RCK, and lasts until around midnight. Due to the nature of the role, there is plenty time to stand around and chat to people as the night closes in over Calais’ fields and woods.
Hello my friend.
Hello, how are you?
I’m fine. Well, not so fine. But fine enough.
You are from UK?
Scotland. Very beautiful. I lived in Manchester.
How long for?
And how long have you been back in Calais?
Just one week. Inshallah, not much longer.
I will not try tonight, but tomorrow I will.
At this point, flashing blue lights light up the corner of wasteland as an ambulance speeds past. We both turn in alarm, and then collective relief that the lights are not police lights.
Thank God, I thought that was the police.
R’s entire demeanour changes.
The police here, they are crazy. They arrested me and put four of us in a one-person cell, like animals. The worst I’ve seen. Worse than Bulgaria. We crossed that border and police were violent, but here in Calais they are worse. They are so much worse.
He didn’t elaborate, and I felt it best not to press for details.
Senge. Where you from brother?
Ah Scotland. Glasgow. Great city. I lived in Manchester.
Oh cool. How long for?
Long time. Typical Home Office.
They sent you back to Afghanistan?
Yes, they deported me. I did this journey before, I was 15. I crossed into the UK on my 16th birthday. The journey was easy then. Not now. This bit is the hardest. I’ve been here 2 months. They deported me illegally, and England is so close.
So close. 20 miles.
So what brought you here? To volunteer?
I was getting angrier and angrier about how people are being treated by the UK and Europe but was doing nothing about it other than tweeting. Eventually I got angry enough to try to do something about it.
And what was your first impression?
I was inspired, at first. Lots of great people from all over the world, trying to do something.
And how do you feel now?
Sad, mostly. Good and bad people everywhere.
Yes, this is the problem. In Afghanistan, it is not safe and there has been war for years. But you come to my village, you are our brother. We don’t care about your race or religion. We do not turn our backs on people. It’s all politics. It’s all about money. And we are the victims.
Well, you more than me, really…
We can do nothing, you and me. You feed us, we try to live. But really, there’s nothing we can do. This is no life.
We then ventured into a conversation about Brexit and European politics, but were cut short by the distribution coming to an end. Stay safe J, and don’t give up hope.
The distribution ends and the boys filter off into the woods or along the dusty track, lit only by the full moon on a chilly night. It’s only August, but already nights are closing in, and I dread to think of winter here.
If you have time to spare in the coming months, we need you. Refugee Community Kitchen needs you. Utopia 56 needs you. Refugee Info Bus needs you. Refugee Youth Service needs you. Help Refugees needs you. The men, women and children sleeping in the woods of Calais and Dunkirk need you. So please, if you’ve thought about it, do it.
On Thursday night, a 22-year old boy died on the motorway, and I send my thoughts and love to his friends who witnessed it happen, to all those risking their lives each day, and to his family who sent him away in pursuit of a safer life.