On my second day working in one of the refugee camps in northern France, one of the younger men spoke of his hopes for the future. He eagerly told me that getting to England is what's keeping him going. It's all he thinks about – every day, every night.
This remarkable hope and extraordinary resilience has continued to strike me when working with the refugees; we need to continue to give them hope for a more stable life through offering our support until a better long term solution is put in place.
When the Calais Jungle was dismantled in the summer of 2016, it was believed by the government that the end of the jungle would mean the arrival of refugees would cease, and those remaining would be forced to return to their home countries.
However, three years on, the loss of the jungle has not led to all refugees leaving Calais; instead thousands are in a dire situation, having been scattered to multiple camps around northern France. There is little certainty of how long these camps will last for, as camps are sometimes closed down with no notice by the police, and the refugees sent on buses to other parts of France. The news about the refugees in Calais is minimal in British media, however their struggle continues, with many unable to return home due to the violent, uncertain situations in their countries of origin.
I felt compelled to visit Calais to gain an improved understanding of this situation, and through the charity Care4Calais I had the opportunity to work in different refugee camps, distributing essential items such as dry foods and sleeping bags, as well as offering hot drinks and a chat.
One of the men I spoke to was only 19 years old, and had fled his home in Ethiopia five years ago alone. However he still spoke of plans to travel across to Britain and start school again, having missed out on an education. Another man from the Gambia asked me for advice on where he should go to university, also asking about my education and where I hoped to work in the future. The Ethiopian Orthodox Christians were astounding, continuing to fast (as in accordance with their religion, they fast 180 days of the year) in spite of circumstance. Their determination to continue as normal demonstrated their hope that this was a temporary situation, and would not prevent them practising their faith.
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The atmosphere in the camps varied greatly, with the first camp I visited maintaining a relaxed atmosphere, with music playing and football games springing up. The following day in Brussels was much more chaotic, due to the sheer number of people, and the limited items we had with us, meaning it was impossible to help everyone we met. This sense of helplessness increased when we heard the news that, soon after we had left one of the all-male camps in Calais, the French riot police had arrived and destroyed many of the tents they were living in.
For the refugees, living in the derelict building sites, city parks and areas on the sides of the road is clearly not a long-term solution, and the sense of animosity between some of the local residents and migrants is exacerbating the problem. However, in the short term, it is crucial to help refugees retain their humanity, and support them as they try to seek asylum. We mustn't forget that they were forced to leave their countries; they would never have made this choice.
Do think about working in solidarity with the refugees, whether through donating money, items or your time. We must ensure they are not forgotten about, and are able to keep alive the hope that so many of them have, miraculously, retained. Remember that migration is not a crime, and helping refugees is merely showing compassion to fellow human beings.
Natalie Keffler is currently working with a refugee charity in Calais