Monday night saw dozens of anti-racist campaigners gather at the French embassy to protest the eviction of Calais refugee camp. France is heading into an election and the eviction which will see thousands of people taken out of the camp is seen as an election stunt by President Hollande seeking to win right wing votes.
Below are videos of three of the speeches delivered last night by people who have gone through the refugee process themselves or have been involved in solidarity work at the Calais camp. Last nights protest also launched #NotOnOurWatch - a call for the Irish government to relocate 200 children from Calais to Ireland. There were about 1100 unaccompanied minors at the camp in total.
Gary Daly recently returned from the Calais refugee camp (now under eviction) speaks at last nights protest at the French embassy in Dublin.
Ellie from the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland who herself spent 7 years in Direct Provision spoke at the protest against the Calais eviction outside the French embassy in Dublin earlier. Ellie's son was displaced from her for over 3 1/2 years, she asks if the politicians making the racist laws sleep at night.
Ellen O'Keefe who just returned from volunteering at the Calais refugee camp now being evicted tells a protest at the French embassy tonight of her experiences there. The text below is an approximate transcript of what she said;
This time in the camp has been so different compared to the month I spent there during the summer. The resilience, strength and spirit of kindness is still there but with a heavy sense of hopelessness. I spent time in the warehouse packing backpacks with plastic bags and ponchos so that people will have some protection from the rain and spent time in the medical caravans helping out my sister.
We met mostly young men, quite a few underage boys, and a few older guys. Some of the young guys were still acting jokey with us, trying their arm at flirting, being generally "normal" young men, but behind the bravado the fear and uncertainty was obvious.
They have travelled so far and many have been there for so long living in absolutely shit conditions, and all that time were hanging on to some distant hope that the unknown future would be better, that they would reach the UK and see family and friends again after they had aged years in just a few months. Now with the demolition a new uncertainty looms that is all the more hopeless.
I sincerely hope people will reach safety and be granted asylum with this forced move but my heart is breaking knowing that so many will undoubtedly be deported. Once they are separated into smaller groups and dispersed around the country it will be much easier for the government to swiftly deport them, many don’t speak English or French and will not be able to demand fair treatment and will not know their rights. I’d like to believe that the process they go through will be fair and adequate and well organised with enough translators and access to independent legal support but that seems highly unlikely given the actions of the EU up until this point.
With the camp being cleared so soon we decided to try to give out all the useful stuff that was left in the caravans and wouldn’t be used otherwise. There is a deep sense of despair, but at least we had some laughs too - after their consultations we weighed the guys down with a random assortment of things from the caravan, they definitely thought we were a bit daft handing over face moisturiser and blemish cream, which are not priorities right now! But they accepted them earnestly and gratefully with a laugh.
All the faces I saw are etched into my mind - men coming in with coughs and colds and sore toes from damp shoes and shoulder pains acting up from when they were beaten by the police in Libya and itchy skin from the scabies that will not go away because they can't wash all their blankets and clothes and have to share anyway.
Soft, sweet young boys, forced to become men, with sore throats and stuffy noses taking care of themselves so far from their families living in the muck and filth. It sends shivers down my spine to think of the journey they’ve taken, what they saw along the way, the treatment they received from smugglers and militias, the brothers or mothers or friends or strangers they saw drowned and swept away in the sea.
How will they ever be okay? How are they being treated like this?
We weighed then down with vitamins and painkillers and vapour rub and warm socks and packets or tissues and gloves and a wish of good luck on their way out.
I never could have imagined that this would be the world I would be living in, growing up so safe and protected I assumed the world and Ireland was governed by fairness and concern for others. When I first fully began to learn of the injustice that is the reality for the majority of the world's inhabitants everyday and the multiple oppressions our societies are built on I assumed everyone would be deeply scandalised and care and act. It still shocks me every single day that this is actually the world we live in, which we have inherited and maintain by choosing whether to act or ignore these injustices.
It felt so terrible sending all those boys back out into the intensely cruel fear and uncertainty and the coming violence of the riot police, armed and dangerous, with only socks and vitamins to help them along. We had no way to reassure them about anything because the reality of what they are facing is so terrifying, because they probably won’t be okay under these policies, because the people deciding their fate and implementing the policies of the EU will not have to look into their faces and see each of their individual personalities, and histories, and traumas and dreams.
They will put them on a plane and send them back to danger. I am constantly shocked by how “well” people deal with all of this, I put myself in their place and know that there is no way I would have made it this far. I have so much respect for what they have managed to overcome and yet still maintain their humanity, still act kind and still laugh and smile though they are crumbling inside.
We finished off the trip by visiting a friend and his sister in their caravan. Despite the stress they were still as hospitable and welcoming as always. They are from Afghanistan and they really have no clue what they’re going to do, trying to reach family and safety in the UK with two gorgeous little children.
They’ve been living in the Jungle for ten months, dealing with a level of such intense and overwhelming stress and degrading conditions that no human should ever have to endure.
What’s most obvious when talking to people going through this is the total lack of control over their own lives, the humiliating limbo that is waiting and waiting and waiting with no indication of what is going to happen, with no-one to talk to who can give you a real answer for what is going to happen to you and your family. The conditions of uncertainty are corrosive and detrimental to people’s well being and mental health.
Those we spoke to and met over the past few days were either despairing, angry or resigned knowing they had no control over their futures. Underneath all of that is undoubtedly massive levels of depression. The tension in the camp was palpable and no outlets for stress are possible.
I left the camp with a heavy heart and sit in college writing this now, confused by the calm and silence all around me while knowing that right now so many people are facing terrifying uncertainty as they step onto a bus taking them god knows where and hoping they’ll reach somewhere better. I hope this turns out better than we are all imagining, I hope the French government treats people in a humane manner.
As we left I took one last glimpse of the camp and wondered how this will all be remembered. How and who is doing the recording? What will we say we did when we look back on it? How will our governments employ selective remembering to paint themselves in the most positive light possible?
So many people have gone through this place and been affected by it, there has been so much beauty and so much horror, so much pain. I wonder what versions of the story all the media are telling. They have mobbed the camp right now to document its fall, which will hopefully ensure somewhat better behaviour from the riot police whose violent actions are finally being recorded for all the world to see.
But the cameras will be gone soon and people will be hidden away in centres. This is not just a news story or something that should be forgotten in a week though the eviction and demolition is an attempt to erase the presence and reality of the camp and make this into an invisible history. The story continues for all those facing state violence, unrelenting fear and precarity who are being degraded and dehumanised every single day by out policies while we watch.
Too many have died violent deaths in Calais and at the borders of Europe and suffered unimaginable trauma because of racist EU policies.
What kind of society do we want to in and what values do we want to underpin it?
This violence is being carried out in our name and we must stand against it.
WORDS & VIDEO: Andrew Flood (Follow Andrew on Twitter