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We must stop hiding from the disaster on our doorstep

Marianne Louis-Auguste calls for an urgent confrontation with the greatest crisis of our age

In your mind, visualise that painful moment at the end of every term: the cold reminder that your room is not your own. Whether you have packed up all your belongings or not, by 10 AM you will be contemptuously evicted, by the once friendly scouts or porters. They do not want you there. College is not your home. You are merely a nuisance for wanting it to be so.

Now, imagine a world in which instead of that room, it is a patch of dirt in a forest that you desperately cling to. Perhaps, on a good day, you’re sheltered by a scrap of tarpaulin. That 10 AM eviction is at around two in the morning, and it is part of your daily routine. The scouts and porters are replaced by aggressive police officers armed with batons, pepper spray and tear gas, all of which may have been used to wake you up after a few hours’ sleep. All you can do is run.

This is the life of the average refugee in Calais and Dunkirk.

The refugee crisis has been ongoing for many years, and it’s only getting worse. The destruction of the Calais Jungle in October 2016, followed by the burning down of the Dunkirk camp in April earlier this year has not signaled the end of the crisis. There are still 600-700 displaced people in Calais – of which 200 are unaccompanied minors – and another 200 in Dunkirk. These are all human beings who have been forced to flee their homes due to a number of reasons, including war, political corruption and general instability. They are escaping a life they did not ask for, and searching for one of safety. They are instead met with rejection, hostility and suffering unlawfully imposed by the European authorities, usually in the form of the Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS); a branch of the police service which specialises in intimidation tactics and riot control. These police officers can find themselves trying to bully four year-old children. The power imbalance is almost laughable. Innocent adults and children have their fundamental human rights violated every day, so much so that many have become desensitised to injustice. To them, this is their life. They are pursued like animals, treated like animals, spoken to like animals. One group of men were once locked in a public toilet for days without food or water, and told that if they were thirsty, to drink the toilet water like dogs.

Their nightmare in France is followed by another during their journey to the UK. Desperation forces people to jump into whatever form of transport they can, to cling onto the bottom of trucks, to indebt themselves to smugglers, to risk their lives in the hope of a better life. Only recently, a boy from Eritrea lost his life in such an attempt. If that is not symbolic of this mess, then I don’t know what is. Instead of helping, we are hindering. Instead of the UK sticking to its promise of providing safe passage for unaccompanied children from Europe via the Dubs scheme, it was inadequate in its proceedings. Inadequate consultations with local authorities meant that the majority of available places in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland were discounted, leading to a much lower national capacity than they proposed. This means that far more than 480 children, the number settled upon, could be relocated and supported. Why is the government so reluctant to help the most vulnerable of people? And why are we letting them?

Fortunately there are multiple organisations who aren’t. To mention only a few, Help Refugees are currently taking the British government to court over this issue, whilst also providing essential supplies such as clothing, shelter and food to those in need. The Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK) relentlessly prepares over 2,700 meals a day for refugees in Calais and Dunkirk. Mobile Refugee Support (MRS) takes a generator every day to Dunkirk so people can charge their phones – a necessity, so that they can contact their family members – and also distributes essential supplies. All these organisations rely solely on donations and volunteers, both of which run low. We should all, therefore, consider doing either or both of these things; everyone’s help is so greatly appreciated and needed. The impending winter poses an added threat with temperatures plummeting to minus ten degrees and insufficient supplies to keep people warm. Without shelter, stormy weather ensures sleeping bags and blankets will only last on average three days. MRS are therefore issuing an urgent Weatherproof Pack Appeal.

Having a home, receiving education, feeling safe: these should not be privileges. We are in the middle of crisis. If you weren’t already aware of it, now you are.

If you can’t supply specific items or physical assistance, you can donate online to Help Refugees, the MRS, and the RCK.

The situation in northern France only scratches the surface of the problem. Thousands more people need help in Italy, Greece, and Lebanon. We must all do our best to help them.


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