Calaismas: Bleak Midwinter

It’s Boxing Day and I’m stood with 8 teenagers barely older than 15 from Eritrea and Afghanistan staring at sixteen CRS officers as they take away sleeping bags and tents once again and one of the kids is mumbling “racists racists racists” under his breath and another reaches into his pocket and pulls out a condom. He blows it up like a balloon and ties it and lets it go in the wind and the nine of us and five of the police officers just watch a blown up condom twirl away down the desolate muddy field like a surreal tumbleweed in the harsh Channel winds.

A boy the same age as these kids died on Thursday night, hit by a lorry and left to die on the motorway. The truck driver carries on with his journey, jumping on a ferry across the channel with ease while a 15 year old dies at the side of the road trying to do that journey just once.

Merry Christmas?

2 days later and a 22 year old boy is deliberately hit by a drunk driver who doesn’t stop. The boy is between life and death. His brother doesn’t know if he is alive or even where he is.

The driver is thankfully in custody.

Photo by Futuro Berg

A sombre memorial, fireworks and dancing on Christmas Day, a small camp running for ten years is suddenly evicted, a man threatens to jump from an electricity pylon while the CRS laugh and joke and intimidate volunteers, emergency shelters that don’t house everybody if they open at all, shrouded in bureaucracy and utter incompetence. A Sudanese man wishes me Merry Christmas and passes me some selection box chocolates from his pocket, telling me that I’m a good businessman (I simplified “marketing” to “business” when he asked what I did before I came here) and that one day I’ll be like Trump, which he entirely means as a compliment.

Another charity distributes sleeping bags in carrier bags emblazoned with the slogan “EVERYONE’S WELCOME AT TESCO.” And I’m sure they are, unless they’re on the wrong side of the border, dying at the side of the road.

We debate the ethics of having a Christmas dinner at the warehouse while teenagers sit outside in the hedge and decide on a dry Christmas dinner that must finish by 9 cos if we invite 10 of the guys then really we have to invite all 700 and in the meantime the boys get hassled by a predatory French man who’s trying to get them into his van for fuck knows what and I could not have been more content to have spent this Christmas standing in the cold (ok, I was a bit hungover too) lending an ear to problems beyond my comprehension and to have a chilled dinner with some beautiful people trying their bloody damnedest to understand what the hell we can do if anything about this utter mess of our creation.

Calaismas dinner, provided by Refugee Community Kitchen


Rest in Peace Abdullah. 15 years old.


Further reads from this week:

The latest Human Rights Watch report from Calais.

Christmas around Europe, recorded by Are you Syrious?

A great article on avoiding dehumanisation and idealisation when writing about the refugee situation.

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