We are proud to carry this excellent piece from our very own Rachael O’Sullivan which appeared in todays Evening Echo. As Rebels we may tend to shun the mainstream at times, but we are delighted that one of our Rebel City Writers has gotten a well deserved platform for her exquisite wordmanship and selfless humanitarian work. From all at the blog, maith thú Rachael!
I have just returned from the Calais Jungle, in France, an unrecognised refugee camp an hour and half’s flight from our shores. A place where the streets are paved with feces and mud. And the people are forced to queue for food and shoes like dogs, who are being trained to sit for a master they have heard of but have yet to meet.
I was part of the Ireland Refugee Solidarity aid convoy that represented a nationwide collection of money, physical donations and 54 skilled volunteers. At the camp I listened to stories of torture and police brutality from around the world. Saw the mangled ears and broken knees. Listened like the western observer raised on a diet of Buffy and action movies as humans recounted tales of sinking ships, dead babies dripping through their slings and hands, covered in blood, filling black bags with their neighbours body parts. My mind absorbed but my heart could not believe. The proof was before me but the pain was too real. I stored it, drank tea and ate their biscuits.
My broken hand was a constant source of sympathy and every time I tried to help or lift something these men and women would step in to help. I was met with ohhs and ahhs when my cast was visible and I felt cared about. In the middle of their hell I received human compassion and empathy. Of course they asked the question how did you break it, did you jump the train? I’m Irish, so of course I had to say yes and this was met with cheers and laughs. The Irish jump the train! Solidarity is free and it was all I could really give.
How could I say to the person before me, no of course I did not jump the train. I do not have to. I’m European and the only passport I need are my freckles and white skin. The train they are referring to is the Euro tunnel train. 40% percent of the camp are applying to stay in France and will sit in their own rubbish until the French decide to process or forget about them. 60% are ‘tunnel runners’. People who have run out of money but not hope after their awe inspiring journeys through North Africa and Europe. People who still believe if they make it to the UK they will be able to send for their families and find work or safety. This tunnel running is horror. You walk 14km to the tunnel. You enter this dark tunnel and walk under the sea until the air thins and you become disorientated and exhausted. At this halfway point the French police wait with dogs, tear gas and a lack of accountability that unleashes a savagery we were taught to fear by nuns and priests.
The men of the camp clap their hands to mimic the sound they hear when someone is electrocuted and killed. These deaths are rarely reported and without papers or legal protection their faces and stories can be forgotten. They are invisible and Ahmed, a 23 year old from Afghanistan, said he did not want our human rights, instead he wanted our animal rights. He was not being facetious or even angry. He was right, they would have more protection as animals in Ireland than they do as unofficial refugees in France.
I witnessed (and we filmed) French police casually pepper spraying women for crossing a road. Acted as a human shield with my phone camera as fully dressed riot police, with guns and batons casually wandered the women and children’s areas of the camp to see what they could see, do what they needed to do. No conversations were had, no explanations were necessary. They do not see humans just the hordes and swarms we are being media-educated to fear from within our living rooms. Our TV world illicits an emotive response that attacks our personal sense of safety and strips us of our logic and human compassion. Hate these others, they are terrorists and will rape your daughters. They are criminals and our den of inequity cannot take anymore criminals as our personal quota is full. No, they need to return. Sure it is probably grand now the oil is gone and we have heard reports that the civil wars and dictatorships resigned when we left. Yes, now it’s fine to go home. Profits have been shared and you were never meant to find us at home. Never meant to return to the place of origin of your pain. Simply give us your resources and die. Not fight back, not survive, and definitely not to come here and tell the truth of what you saw. Democracy is a fragile maiden and would not be able to handle the disgruntled tales of economic genocide you bring with your foreign passports and skins.
How is this happening? This pit of illegal hell. A place where NGOs and grassroots and the international stage of European politics is ignoring. How can almost 6,000 people not exist. Are they still human? I’m actually asking. When did they lose their rights? We send troops to other countries to protect people. I guess they are still human there but somehow as they crossed borders and dodged bullets stamped with white fear they became less. Not human but something else. A sub human. A person who looks and speaks and eats but is not the same. The western shield of terrorism and fear of sharia law is enough to frighten us to our cores and we allow our guilt to be replaced by the decisions of our leaders. The very same leaders who are slowly stripping our rights and culture away for profit but somehow it is easier than acknowledging these people’s humanity.
It is easier to allow people to die than to sit with the truth that our governments are capable of consciously deciding to let people die. We need to drive our children to school and buy food in our supermarkets and how can we do this if we doubt the fabric of what we see? How can we continue on if we acknowledge the wrong our leaders do in our names? Where does personal responsibility meet social conscience? What is social conscience in practice? Are we responsible for the actions of our governments or can we say as the people of Germany did, when the concentrations camps were opened, that they didn’t know! But we do know and I personally can never un-know what I have seen. The naked face of capitalism and the cost of its need for constant expansion and accumulation of power. How much can any one person need? How much do we need to store before we feel safe enough to share? Open our doors, open our windows and breath! Slow down, see this consumerism and unchecked appetite for belongings and possessions for what it is. A marketing technique designed to make us need inanimate objects. A little girls harmless collection of Barbie dolls, that sit in plastic rows of blonde hair and dayglow dresses, costs too much. I would choose to hold a brown hand over a plastic one.
My belongings will no longer ease my guilt or satisfy my primal needs. The stories of the men women and children I sat with have seen to that. I would share my home if it means another can survive. I am a single mother but we could share what we have and now I would give it gladly. The march of the refugees is Europe’s shame but we as people can change that. We can question our own conditioned beliefs, examine the emotive news we are fed and make up our own minds. We are people and they are people. There is only one type of human and it is our history we write today, and even if governments are slow to act let it be our humanity that is remembered. No life is worth less than another and now we need to stand with the refugees of Calais until the world remembers their rights. Not in my name will this be how people are treated. People can stand with people and now if we do not people will continue to die. We have a choice, though it may not seem obvious in the layers of political bureaucracy we are drowning in, but within this suffocating mire of laws and treaties we can demand humanity and rights for for all. We cannot let this be reality; it is wrong. No one should die because of greed and fear. We teach toddlers to share in preschool. Will it take another 22,000 drownings to remind us how? Here are the stories of Waseem, Iridis and Saadi – three men in the invisible Jungle of Calais. My thoughts remain with them and I pray they make it through the tunnel. My door, will now, always be open.
Waseem, 35, Syria.
I left my wife and two children in Syria and I want to come to the UK because it has the shortest reunification period – I think it is seven or eight months. I think in Germany it’s 18 months – has this changed, do you know? I worked in telecommunications in Syria, we had a good life. I think maybe I should try and go home. I have seen many refugee camps on my way here and this is the worst. This is a bad place. I cannot believe it, no water, no place to have a shower, no sanitation, rubbish everywhere. So many people from so many places. I came here last night and I have only slept for four hours in the last five days. I think I need twelve hours sleep, but if you need me to translate for you I will walk you to the gate. It is no trouble – you are a young woman and I will walk with you. I wish I never came here. We had enough at home, I had my family. Maybe we had enough? Why did I come here, this seems worse. At least in Syria I had my family.
Idris, 39, Iran.
I was living in the UK for 8 years. I went home to Iran to visit my family. When I was returning, I was in the queue at the airport. I became angry and I started talking to the men around me – I was saying ‘the people in these countries (Iran) they are dictators’. We were all talking, we were all arguing – I was loud. I didn’t realise the person standing behind me was security. He heard me, and I was arrested. They made me sign a form. I was tortured and that is why I signed the form. My ear, you see? You see? This is what they did. Look, my knee as well, you can’t see it, but it doesn’t work. They then ties a weight on a hook to my penis. I signed the form. I was in prison for three years. Afterwards, I tried to go back to England and when I got to the airport they said I had been gone for more than six months and I could no longer enter the UK.
Now I am in Calais. I have my NHS card, my National Insurance number, I even had a residency permit but it was no good to me. Now I am in Calais.
Saadi, 32, Syria
I am from Syria. It is not safe there and I had to leave. I came here by boat, train and walking. I am sick. I have pneumonia and the Ireland medical team gave me antibiotics. I am not strong enough to go the tunnels at night. I have been sick since I got here 20 days ago. My friend went to the tunnels on Friday. He didn’t make it back it – he’s dead… The train got him and now I am alone. I need to get strong and make it the tunnels, it’s my only chance at freedom. Are you married? Have a home? Children? That is all I want. All I want is the freedom that you have and the safety that you have. I cannot go home. Thank you for coming here to help us.
Ireland Refugee Solidarity