By Liza Kummrow, PhD Candidate in Politics and IR at CCCU
Last Friday was a day full of different experiences that left me both angry and emotional. Angry because I could not believe how people could live in such appalling conditions in France when we visited the old part of the Dunkirk camp. Luckily, all the people that used to live there have now been relocated to a much better facilitated and spacious camp, where people live in actual small huts with an own house number, have access to proper bathroom facilities with showers, a small open-space house to charge their phones and get some essential goods etc. Although not all the 2500 refugees that are being accommodated there have access to electricity or heating it definitely feels like a big improvement to the conditions that people were living in when residing in the old part of the camp.
When we drove into the old part of the camp our purpose was to try and collect reusable materials such as pallets and plastic blankets. When walking through the camp, I struggled to imagine myself how those people coped living here. What must have been their last thoughts when going to sleep in those tents that were stuck half way in mud and being freezing cold? When we arrived, the camp was completely abandoned but left the way it had been when everyone still lived there – food on the floor and in the tents, blankets and wellington boots stuck in the mud, teddy bears and other toys hanging from the trees. It was a scene that will stick with me forever and it is the reason why I have become even more passionate about raising awareness of what is going on just two hours away from Canterbury.
Yes, those people living in the old part of the Dunkirk camp have been relocated to a much better facilitated camp, but there are other camps – such as the one in Idomeni on the Greek Macedonian border or the “Jungle” that truly has become a Jungle in its own sense, because it is being completely demolished – where people are still living in absolutely appalling conditions. To think that only two months ago when I first visited the “Jungle” and had seen a camp that truly had become a community in its own way with many different ethnicities peacefully living together, shops and restaurants being created, schools and a women and children’s centre build there, it was shocking to hear that all this had gone with only a few tents remaining. I myself was not able to go and visit the “Jungle”, but the stories we heard from some of the volunteers from our group were shocking. Just when we were arriving into the new part of the Dunkirk camp, we were informed that the last remaining mosque in the “Jungle” was on fire. Some of our volunteers had gone to help move some of the houses to the north side of the camp before being demolished by bulldozers. However, after the fire started and quickly spread to the remaining houses, the police formed a barricade and that no one was able to leave or enter the camp. Those volunteers still stuck in the camp managed to find a way out with the help of the refugees but they all felt so helpless leaving those behind that had no where else to go, as what they had build for themselves over the last couple of months had been taken away from them – leaving them in the unknown.
Reflecting on this, I cannot stress enough that none of those refugees are willingly leaving their home country and sacrificing their life to take this dangerous route to Europe, but do not have a choice! Those people come to Europe in search for freedom and a safe place to live after all those atrocities that they have faced back home. So, when I was walking through the old camp in Dunkirk, what stroke me the most was the fact that I was standing on French soil; that what I was witnessing was happening not only in Europe, but also in one of the richest European Union member states in 2016!