This year I’ve been able to make four trips to the Calais Jungle and I’ve had the chance to reflect on these visits on a couple of occasions on the radio. This is the first of those talks given not to try to influence the debate but to raise awareness.
It’s been shocking weather for some people and we’ve seen images of people having to abandon their homes in Cumbria and seek shelter elsewhere. Well, the weekend before last a friend and I made a trip to Calais to take food and clothes to other people who’ve had to abandon their homes. Quite a few people in our village have been concerned about the plight of the refugees and when I made an appeal for supplies the response was immediate and enthusiastic.
It so happens that I have some American friends working in a church in Boulogne and they go into the camp every week to meet with a group of nine or ten Sudanese people fleeing what amounts to a genocide in Darfur.
So on the Saturday morning we loaded up with bin bags full of jumpers, jeans, coats, shoes, socks and gloves, rice and cooking oil and were soon edging our way through the police cordons to the outskirts of the camp where six thousand people live in quite squalid conditions. It was sunny as our new friends, full of smiles and hugs came to meet us with a shopping trolley. The bright weather meant the atmosphere was happy with plenty of people playing football and children riding bikes but the same afternoon the torrential rain and winds spread the puddles into a muddy morass.
It has long been my experience that the most generous people are often those who have the fewest of this world’s goods. There is a meeting tent in this part of the encampment and it was a moving experience to share a meal prepared by the refugees and to sing with them. It’s the first time I’ve played a twelve string guitar with only five strings but the music was sweet.
Opinions will differ about what should happen to the Calais camps. There is no doubt that the conditions are insanitary and the place is unsightly. Some of those living there are in the process of applying for asylum in France while others take tremendous risks trying to reach Britain. Just after I came back, I heard that a Sudanese boy we had met had been killed on the motorway trying to reach Britain.
Our American friends have found it impossible to ignore this need on their own doorstep. For my part, I consider that Calais is on my doorstep too and that’s why I’m planning another trip in the spring. Tomorrow is a National Day of Prayer for Refugees in honour of Human Rights Day. That’s great, but there needs to be action, too. The Bible says, ‘Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If you say to him, “Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed” but do nothing, what good is it?’ That’s a great question.