Unfortunately, this Wednesday Word from early in 2016 is still very topical because today all the talk in France is about dismantling the Calais Jungle once and for all. But where will the people go?
You may remember that just before Christmas I spoke on Wednesday Word about a visit I made to the refugee camp in Calais. Well, on the weekend I went for a second time, again with a friend and a car load of clothes and food kindly donated by people in my church and the Raglan community.
In an attempt to organise what’s become known as “The Jungle”, large parts of it have been bulldozed, leaving an expanse of wasteland as big as several football pitches. A makeshift shack that serves as a mosque sits incongruously in the middle. The authorities weren’t allowed to demolish that particular structure. When all else has been lost, very often religious faith remains and it’s good to see it respected.
One result of the demolition work means the people there have much less space than before. The Sudanese friends we made previously are still in their little encampment but there are many more similar groupings, based on country of origin, in even closer proximity than before. And we saw rows of White shipping containers – cold, impersonal and regimented – surrounded by a daunting security fence where people sleep six to a room on bunkbeds.
On this visit we went further into the Jungle and spent time with a group of Iranians, singing with them – a few Christian songs as well as popular stuff like ‘Blowing in the Wind’ and ‘Take me home, country roads.’ I think I know now what a medieval town must have looked like. Tramping feet have established main thoroughfares among the shanties and tents, where rudimentary shops have been hammered together from random bits of wood.
It’s one thing to see all this in the media but quite another to look at it close up. This came home to me forcibly while a group of men were rummaging around in the boot, looking for shoes especially. One of them, an Iranian, turned to me and said, ‘One humanity; different destiny’.
How right he was. I’m back in Wales with my family and my safe, settled community and my hot and cold running water. The news cycle moves on, what with the effort to save jobs in Port Talbot, the revelations about tax havens and now the enforced return of some refugee seekers from Greece to Turkey. Governments need the wisdom of Solomon in these times!
Unlike me, my Iranian friend has had to flee persecution because of his Christian faith and is in the exile of a camp which for all the daytime conviviality is still a dangerous place. Yet, we are connected. I should have known that already. After all, the Bible tells us that God has made from one blood all nations of humankind.