“My sons were killed in front of me.” The faces of the Calais refugees
As the UK prepares to receive thousands of refugees from the Syrian border and provide other camps in the region with an additional £100 million in funding, those who have come from the same dangers are left stranded in the French port of Calais. Many of the 5000-strong camp have fled the same warzones as those who will be accepted under the government’s proposals.
The Calais migrants tell of horrific experiences at the hands of dictators, terrorists and gangs and as such we should ask why they are not receiving support. Four refugees told stories of the danger they faced in their home nations and how the desperate nature of their journey to Calais has left them hoping for a fast UK response.
Yagob (26) from Darfur:
“I left because of the fighting. It was August 2004 that it began and we were sleeping in the night. We had livestock but they [the Janjaweed, a government-backed militia] took everything and they killed about 32 people in our area. At first we came to Nyala, that is the capital city of South Darfur. We went to a refugee camp.
“The situation there is not great, the government intelligence follow you 24 hours. When you speak English they think you give information to the media or to NGOs on the ground. If you don’t inform on them then you can be arrested and killed.
“On three of the four boats, everyone died.”
“I make my way from Khartoum to Libya. I was in Libya for five months—in prison for three months, and I worked for two months to save money to come to England. The people smugglers take all your money and beat you, they can ask for money at any time and you have to give it to them. When I was on the boat to Italy they say ‘give me so much money or I will kill all the people on this boat, including women and children.’ You are scared, so you pay.
“Often they leave the boats, and [on] three of the four boats they sent everyone died.”
Yagob will not receive asylum under the government’s new plans as he is not Syrian or located on the Turkish border. This does not mean his story being any less poignant or mean his desperation to reach the UK is any less.
Habib (46) from Syria:
Habib avoids being photographed and asks for his name to be changed. He was, however, willing to pull up his shirt to reveal a large scar running up from his navel to his ribs.
“I had two sons killed in front of me. Assad’s army chopped their heads off and I have a picture of their heads lying next to their bodies. They did this and they took me for not supporting the party. If you are not with them, then you are against them and they took me and beat me. I have scars and then they forced me to drink bleach.
“I have one kidney, half a liver and I am struggling with pains in my chest. I have been here for three days and I have not showered in eight. I live outside as I have no tent or spare clothes and people go to the toilet near where I sleep.”
“I want to go to the UK to be respectable, the French authorities here are the same as Assad.”
Mahmoud (33) from Damascus:
Mahmoud was a year away from completing a university course to become a lawyer when revolution and dissent hit Syria. The entire area where he was was destroyed, and members of his family murdered.
“I was living near to military base of Bashar [home to Syrian regime forces] in Daria when they came for me to try and make me join them. I didn’t want to fight so they threw me in jail and I thought… [he makes a cutting motion across his throat].”
“I want to send message to David Cameron, the Prime Minister of England. Please, please, please, I know this camp is not your problem, it’s not your fault what is happening in Syria but please help us.
“I want to live in peace, I want to live a simple life. I have two daughters in Syria and I want to bring them here. I pay for my wife and two kids, I’m not selfish. This is the same with all Syrians, I want to lead a better life.”
“Children play in pools of floodwater.”
Mahmoud shows me a picture of his blue-eyed two- and four-year old daughters but won’t allow me to take a picture of him or their picture as he still fears reprisals from the Syrian regime.
“They [government forces] are looking at the internet and if they see this they will find them and try to kill them.”
Syrians are now no longer confined to the region but have spread far and wide across borderless Europe in hope of better living conditions and security. Both Habib and Mahmoud find it is conceivable that the closer refugees get to the UK the worse the conditions become.
It seems strange that both of these men would not receive any support from the British government given that they have both come from areas that are now receiving additional funding and many of their fellow refugees are receiving asylum, while they wait in hope of any good news.
I asked Salim, an Algerian who has lived in the UK, what the Calais migrant camp, or ‘the Jungle’ was like to live in.
“The environment of camp is not good, there is litter everywhere. It is rainy and cold, we have plastic sheets to cover [our tents]. With meals you get one a day, you wait for 5pm. Maybe you make a cup of tea. You are really starving.
“Children play in pools of water from flooding and I hate to think what bacteria are there.”
It seems that the overcrowding and lack of facilities experienced in refugee camps is universal and thus not confined to the region where the UK will be sending aid to. It becomes more and more clear that while plans to provide further support satisfy our ‘moral responsibility’ to the overall migrant crisis there is a gross oversight for those who remain stranded on our doorstep.