DRIVING to Dover the other day, my friend suddenly says, “I forgot my passport.” We are almost at the ferry to France. Instead of being turned back, we are allowed to travel to Calais on the strength of an Irish passport (mine) and an out of date scrap of paper that used to be a UK driving licence (hers). The ferry operator waves her through.
Later, heading back to the ferry from Calais, we are stuck in traffic. Trucks are lined up in queues in the back roads near the port, stationary in the traffic. Groups of young men from the Jungle migrant/refugee camp are, in the bright evening sunshine, trying to board the lorries, right there in front of us, all around us.
They are not threatening — they appear good humoured, astonishingly, given the desperation and hopelessness of their task — because every lorry is locked tight. Impenetrable.
We sit for ages, watching the cat and mouse of the truck drivers and the young men trying so hard to stow away with them. My car is half empty — I have to fight the urge to open the door and invite them in. They wouldn’t all fit. And even if they did, they would be thrown out at the border. The wrong passports.
Driving through Kent away from Dover — because once again, my friend’s scrap of out of date driving licence, without any photo ID, was enough to allow her to pass the UK border police — we marvel at the insanity of the whole situation. International lorry drivers sit in tailbacks on the other side of the Kent motorway, miles and miles of them not moving, losing their livelihoods because of the Calais migrant situation. The ordinary residents of Calais can’t be too overjoyed about it either.
But what about the 4,000 people who have made it to Calais from situations beyond our imagination — the smart, educated, brave, determined men and women who have overcome unspeakable obstacles and horrors, wrenched themselves from loved ones, lost everything they own other than what they stand up in, survived journeys we could not even contemplate, only to end up in a cold muddy wasteland in Calais?
The Calais refugees and migrants are the bravest of the brave, the most fearless, the best equipped to withstand stuff that would cause the rest of us to buckle. Yet because they have shown initiative and daring and resourcefulness and true grit, they are penalised as “illegals”. They have the wrong bits of paper. They may be skilled, educated professionals — which many at the Jungle camp are — but they have the wrong passports.
By an accident of birth, my friend can come and go as she pleases on an out-of-date incomplete driving licence. Yet Ireland and Britain continue to drag their heels about motivated, skilled, English-speaking individuals, instead of offering them shelter and respite from what they have been through. The refugees in Calais should be first on the list, not last — they have made it this far. They are heroic.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved