Friday, 4 September 2015

My Second Trip to Calais by Cassy Paris: SEPTEMBER 2015

Britain finally got some truth from the media and the photograph of a toddler face down in the water has divided the country into two camps....

Within these two camps there are lots of things that may be universal but mostly fear, compassion and lack of understanding are leaving us squabbling among ourselves as to the best way forward from here... Across Europe it is still being referred to as a “migrant crisis” -which it is - (but) it is slowly becoming the norm to accept that within this mass migration is a large percentage of genuine and desperate REFUGEES.

The excuses that I have heard for why people won’t take action have ranged from “they are abled bodied men who left their families behind” to “well they should have stayed at the first safe country they got to”

...Ultimately, they have done what they thought was right under the TRULY horrific circumstances that they faced, and whilst we bicker about who did what to who they are still being electrocuted trying to jump on the trains, or dying in lorries or just drowning quietly in the sea and not being washed up where anyone cares enough to photograph them.
I am really starting to feel like I have blood on my hands because no matter how many tents or sleeping bags we send over they are going to keep trying until there is a change in the way asylum is processed. 

I'm sick of explaining to people that they asylum process in France can take up to a year - a year of being homeless,;a year of being starving; a year of being an outcast; a year of not seeing your friends or your family who are in the UK; a year of sleeping on the steps of a church (or) in a slum that is so bad is has been given the name “The Jungle”; a year of having nothing, literally nothing. ..

So I went back to Calais, this time to try and understand just one person, to try and put a human being at the front of my mind because when you talk about them all its so overwhelming….. so for today I just want to focus on Syria and the Syrians in Calais.

At the moment hundreds of thousands of wonderful British people are packing up boxes and sending aid to Calais... and whilst we are busy doing the job the government should have been doing ,they have been busy chatting about who we will and who we won’t help from Syria, for how long and from where.

It seems you forgot about Calais David Cameron…..

There are thousands of refugees in Calais:there are thousands of migrants in Calais, but you don’t want to help them…. you have used really clever language to disguise the fact that you are being bitter about helping those in Calais because you don’t want to look like you have changed your mind! At the last count on Sunday there were only 269 SYRIANS IN CALAIS... What are you going to do to help THESE SYRIANS? Why is their need any less than anyone else’s? Because they were desperate enough to make the journey this far under the false hope that we would stand up for them?

You have made out you couldn’t possibly help the people in Calais for all sorts of reasons, and yes its complicated - there are people from so many different countries there and at night they emerge from under canvas and walk en mass to the fences where tear gas is used to stop them going any further…. but out of all these people less than 300 are from Syria.

We all KNOW they do not have a home to go back to; we all KNOW that they are not here for the economy...They are mostly hard working, educated, patriotic, English speaking people whose lives got wrecked in a country that only a few years ago was considered to be “immune” from any problems that broke out around them. This this COULD have been the UK.

I spent 24 hours with a 26 year old Syrian. He has spent 6 weeks sleeping on the steps of a church by the Ferry port in Calais. He is an English teacher (and) he is a photographer. He is so bright, funny and articulate and sounds like an authentic American when he talks. He has filmed most of his journey on his go pro that he bought with the money he earned in his old life where he was considered an equal person to you and to me.

He has been jailed twice in Syria and has had both arms and a leg broken for peaceful protest in Syria - he can never go home. He can NEVER go home. Imagine that.

Many of you donated coats and the residents took them gratefully, so so gratefully. And I stood there leaning against my Audi watching them wearing your clothes and I just felt so sad…. of course we are all scared of change.

I'm not ashamed or afraid to say that I am really scared of an Islamic England, but I also know I'm being really silly…. we have always let in refugees and we haven’t suddenly been overtaken. Unjustifiable fear is also not a good enough excuse to stay quiet and do nothing.

Whilst I stood there, Hassan and his friends made me lunch and told me about how they had thought that England would let them in, how there are less than 300 of them and that their family and friends are already there… did I know what David Cameron would do to help them because they have no support in France.

I struggled to swallow my food as I realised that the Syrian aspect of the refugee crisis in Calais could be solved with 2 coaches…

Together we walked the dangerous walk to the fences - crossing motorways and jumping ditches; talking about family, friends, photography and food; enjoying the connection between human and human. And when we arrived he just stared at the trains in silence, his eyes brimming with the story of everything he had been through to get this far, and the horror that comes with knowing it's still not over; Britain doesn’t want him.

As night fell, his anxiety became really palpable. I begged him to wait, to stop trying to get here, to please, please wait for the British people to do something so that we can come and get him. We ate our dinner by the beach in silence. He offered to pay… "look here, I have 20 euros, please let me pay."

And then he cried.
He cried because he is so scared.
He cried because he is so alone.
He cried because he just wants to be in the UK with his extended family and people who understand him when he speaks.
He cried because he is drained of all hope.
He cried because he was embarrassed.
He cried because he was ashamed to need our help.

What could I do but hold his hand and tell him "Please wait and we will do something. We will all try and do something."

The people there are all Hassan (with a different name) and we owe the people who have travelled as far as Calais our relentless solidarity. There is no dispute over whether people feeling Syria are refugees or not - they are! That counts for those in France as well as those on the borders of Syria. They have made it to Calais but THEY ARE SYRIAN TOO!

I got home last night and today my heart feels battered. I am so proud of everything that everyone is doing but it's not just about keeping them safe in Calais - it's about letting them start their lives here, too, without being so pig headed about the fact that they shouldn’t have gone to Calais. They are refugees who did what they thought was best.

And when the Syrian problem in Calais is solved then there is Dunkirk and other smaller makeshift refugee camps nearby, not to mention the remaining problems of people who have fled Iran, Eritrea ,Sudan, Pakistan and so on…. but it has to start somewhere and right HERE right NOW we have a list of 269 SYRIANS who NEED BRITISH HELP.

Please, let's try and help them.

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Let them in.


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