My New Passport
My new passport just arrived in the post. Time for a trip. Perhaps a long haul destination, maybe a sunny beach to top up my tan, I guess would even consider a cultural/historical tour. Probably not a cruise though!
I didn’t need the shiny new passport for the train ride to my friend’s house. After eating, a game of Monopoly, and a couple of hours in bed I was ready for the off by 5:30am. A few hours down the road and we joined another friend and continued together.
What destination was worthy of the new passport and early start? Here’s a clue… it’s a place that many of my friends have been through, somewhere that has often been in the media, a well-known location although no one wants to stay. It’s a place that over 10,000 called home until a few months ago. Now a home to none, although police still patrol the area.
Welcome to the Calais Jungle! Running next to the road we could see the fence that cost millions to build.
We visited a warehouse that sprung up in 2015 as a response to a Facebook appeal. From then on volunteers have provided clothing, sleeping bags, wood for cooking as well as meals for those in The Jungle.
Since the dismantling of The Jungle the size of their work has downscaled, but they are still helping those in a nearby camp of Dunkirk. The energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the volunteers was inspiring. They continue to grapple with difficult questions such as how to assist unaccompanied minors returning to the region yet not to be seen to be encouraging others to return.
Later we arrived at the site that was once home to 10,000. As soon as we alighted from the car a van full of police descended to ask if we were journalists.
Hardly anything remains at the site. Empty cardboard boxes, spent tear gas used to disperse residents, first aid points, and white shipping containers used to house the most vulnerable. where asylum seekers could be carried before being met by the emergency services who were afraid to enter.
It was strange to see some of the graffiti that I was so familiar with from the media. Other graffiti spoke of people’s desperation and challenged inactivity.
After surveying the ghostly site we met up with a local Catholic group who welcome asylum seekers.
One of the group whom had been making a documentary tracking different individuals progress, another was a long term volunteer who had spent many years cooking for hundreds of people. A couple of refugees acted as our interpreters as our school French was rather rusty.
A trip through the Channel Tunnel, Tube across London, train ride, and half an hour walk and I was home. Travelling with that new passport was easy. How much easier was my onward travel than many of those who have had prolonged stays in the Calais Jungle.
I’ll leave you with thought I read in a magazine last summer…