The children stranded in Calais
There are 750 unaccompanied children in the Calais Jungle. Surely more can be done to help these most vulnerable of people, writes Matt Dominey
(Since Matt first published his blog, it has emerged that fewer than 20 child refugees have arrived in the UK in three months. A petition has also been organised calling on the authorities to reunite 14 children approved for transfer with their families in the UK. The children have a legal right to be here, but are waiting to be driven the 30 minute journey to the train station)
My eyes glance across the barren wasteland of tarpaulin shacks and crumpled tents. Before me lie the 750 unaccompanied children of The Jungle, standing in the dust, having fled war and humanitarian disaster. Alone they have navigated the Mediterranean. Alone they have walked across Europe. Alone they have arrived in Calais.
The newspapers have gone quiet. Their stories of desperation and despair have become but a distant memory. Other than a few column inches, squeezed in between Kim Kardashian and Boris Johnson, there is nothing. As the media turns its back, it would be easy for us to forget. It would be easy for us to become consumed by the comfort of our western lives; but while we drown in luxury, they drown in despair. We must not let the media’s disengagement detract from the immediacy of the situation. Inaction does not have its usual consequences. We cannot come crawling back to charity when it takes our fancy; by then it will be too late. The children will be damaged, lost and forgotten.
We dehumanise refugees in a bid to legitimise our cold disinterest. We fail to see the eight-year-old Syrian boy with compassion and we abandon the nine-year-old Afghanistani. But the children I see in the dust of The Jungle are not just refugees; they are somebody’s son, daughter, brother or friend. One boy, only 16-years-old, hasn’t spoken to his mother in months, another longed for nothing more than be united with his father in England. We cannot forget this.
Despite our neglect, these refugees are not without hope. The Jungle reminds me time after time that it is in the crucible of hardship that human ingenuity triumphs. The refugees demonstrate a creative flair and a capacity for optimism that surprises. They diligently attend language lessons, resourceful adapt to their surroundings and faithfully help all those around them. It was a Sudanese refugee that walked with me for hours when I was lost, miles from where I stayed, with no phone or idea where I was. He stopped only to ask his friends for directions. Yes, my time in Calais haunts me with images of an ongoing humanitarian crisis that I feel compelled to respond too, but it also depicts a scene of human tenacity that deeply humbles me. We have as much to learn from as we do to give the refugees of Europe.
The ease with which the 750 children could be housed makes it all the more agonising. There are 11,581,000 children in the UK. To take in the abandoned children would increase our population of under-18s by 0.006 per cent. I’m not suggesting that the UK can address the migration crisis overnight but housing 750 unaccompanied children is within our grasp. So when a politician tells me that the situation is too costly to solve, I do not believe them. I do not believe the scaremongering rhetoric whipped up by a political class set on division and deceit. I do not believe that the lives of 750 children are worthless. Our country is better than that. These children deserve better than that. To suggest otherwise is to turn our back on the values that laid the very foundations for some of our nation’s greatest achievements.
For me, Calais was just an experience, a fleeting moment; its end was tied definitively to my train ticket home. But for the children of The Jungle, it was more than that. It was a way of life thrust upon them by the inescapable circumstances of war, poverty and oppression. As I ride the Eurostar home, it is hard to comprehend this. It is hard to process the idea that a human being can be reduced to such squalor in return for a crime no greater than seeking safety, shelter and a future.
Alone they have travelled, alone they will battle for survival and alone they will remain so long as we sit paralysed at the sidelines of injustice. Do not let our country condemn the 750 vulnerable children to indigence.
Picture: malachybrowne / Flickr
Matt Dominey attends Leigh Road Baptist Church in Essex and is looking forward to studying Politics and International Relations at University in September
Matt spent a week in Calais with Peaceful Borders, teaching English at the makeshift school, paying hospital visits and spending time with people in the camp. This article first appeared in his blog One Young Turk and is republished with permission