‘We live in interesting times’. Words I have heard a lot recently, and I don’t know whether to respond with ‘that’s true’ or ‘that’s offensive to those of supposed interest who are struggling and suffering’. I know that’s not how it’s meant, but I can’t help but feel that with time refugees are being forgotten. These beautiful, amazing people are not at the forefront of our minds. And it’s easy to forget that they are human beings just like you and I. What’s different is that life threw them in at the deep end, the end with no land in sight.
While sat thinking of how to write this, I was kicked out of the library and then the foyer of the hostel and ended up sitting in the hallway, as my roommate has already gone to bed. The way I was told ‘it’s closing time’ made me angry, but then I remembered I had met many people today who had been kicked out of their homeland, then the shelter they found, then their tent, then the next shelter (if they were lucky enought to find one) and who are now sleeping rough. How must they be feeling? And yet today every one of the 30 refugees I met (in the cold, the dark and the rain) had a smile on their face as I greeted them. Everyone laughed with me and thanked me for caring – and I asked myself what a fellow volunteer had voiced earlier – would I be this friendly if I was stranded in a foreign country where nobody wanted me? Refugees, human beings, live like an invisible community, hiding from the people who do not want them and the police who persecute them. Although many of us do welcome them, unfortunately we are drowned out by those who do not, those who let fear and hate rule.
Speaking to a police officer at the detention centre today I asked how it was working as a law enforcement officer with people who are not really criminals. He answered ‘it’s an interesting job’ in a tone implying he didn’t quite know what to make of the situation either. The police do not act very kindly to refugees and make their lives, and us helping them, difficult. But are they just working within a system we do not stand up and change? Refugees are here, and if more people understood that pushing them away does not make them go away, just makes them more desperate, then maybe things would change? Why are the police trying to intimidate those of us trying to help, when without the support we try to give, desperation really could make refugees a ‘problem’. In the cold winter of Calais, I realise just how human our refugees are, how they just want to be with their families and safe, don’t we all?
Being thrown out of the library and sat in the hallway, I met a young man from Belgium with a beautiful view of humanity. I am glad to have met him, which I wouldn’t have had I still been in the library. And so, out of every bad situation can come something good. As it is with the world. Let us take action and create a force of positivity towards refugees while there is still time. It may be too late for many refugees, but for most there is still an opportunity to help our fellow man and treat them with dignity and respect. Who knows, in 50 years time our positions may be reversed.