Forgive my Russell Brand levels of disillusion. My head is full of a different set of overlords — the ones who just gave the go-ahead for the bulldozing of a shantytown that exists on top of an abandoned rubbish dump a few miles outside the centre of France’s least lovely town. 87 miles from my front door.
When the Calais prefecture told refugees they could settle undisturbed on this rubbish tip, that’s exactly what happened. The people who came were mostly from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Eritrea. They were homesick and traumatised, and hoping to reach the UK where many have families. You know the story. The port of Calais became a dystopian fortress of razor wire and riot police, and so the Jungle — as its inhabitants named the scrubby patch of ground on which they pitched their tents — became a bottleneck of tear gas and desperation.
The mayor of Calais, Natacha Bouchart, and the French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, declared there were 800-1,000 people living in the camp. The charities on the ground knew this was nonsense and did a proper census — sure enough, there are 3,455 living in the southern part of the camp alone. The bit the authorities are going to bulldoze.
This includes 445 unaccompanied children — the youngest is a 10 year old boy from Afghanistan. Imagine being him. Ten years old, all alone, homeless on a cold muddy patch of foreign land. The foreign grown-ups about to destroy everything around you.
All winter long, streams of volunteers from Ireland, the UK and Belgium have been over and back, like lines of despairing ants, to the Calais shantytown, ferrying food and building materials. Ultra-basic shelters have been built so people don’t die of hypothermia in their tents. You’ll probably have read about the library (‘Jungle Books’), the women and children’s centre, the medical centre, the kitchens that feed thousands a day — all crowdfunded by ordinary citizens, because nobody else has stepped in. The UN is not here, nor Oxfam or Save The Children. The French government blocked them.
Nobody wants to be in the Jungle. It’s a hellish place, despite the eternal sunshine of the human spirit, and the solidarity of the non-political classes who drive over with van-loads of cobbled-together aid. The Irish solidarity has been amazing. But what now for these war-ravaged, exhausted, vilified, disbelieved Jungle inhabitants? Imagine if there were 445 white kids languishing unaccompanied on a foreign rubbish dump. There would be international outrage.
Instead we are fed all kinds of crap by the media about scroungers and terrorists, to keep us feared up and unresponsive. Austerity — a political term for class war — keeps us cowed and divided enough to scapegoat the most vulnerable, the most desperate. And now, the only bit of normality our nearest refugees have to anything resembling ‘home’ is about to be destroyed. Where is our humanity?