John and Bato’s story

John and Bato’s story

“The militia came to my village at midnight. They all had guns, and I saw them shoot people. They shoot people for nothing. When I saw that I realised my life was nothing to them, that I was nothing. That’s why we had to leave.”

John, the South Sudanese refugee on the left in the photograph, told me this story at a distribution of bags and chargers one afternoon in Dunkirk. He seemed sad as he remembered home and how he had left with his friend Bato (right) to escape to the UK. As two young men , they knew the militia would come back and either press them into service, or kill them.

They made their way through Libya, crossed the Mediterranean sea in a “very scary” boat, and then trekked through Italy and France. “It was tough,” said Bato, in an understatement that brought a lump to my throat. Enduring the long, hard wait to somehow find a way to the UK as the winter drew in, John, said they now faced the big challenge of keeping up their spirits.

“We have to be strong,” he said. When I asked how, he laughed kindly.

“You start by knowing there are two choices. You live, or you die. You decide you are going to live. You look into your heart, and you make yourself believe it. Then you believe in each other. That’s all.”

It was moving to hear such hard-learned words from such young men, particularly ones who had been so cheerful and friendly. But as I learned as a volunteer that refugees so often have this incredible understand, strength and humour. We were there to support them, but in my week in Calais I learned more than I can say. Good luck, John and Bato; the UK will be all the richer if you finally get there.

B, volunteer

To volunteer in Calais and support refugees like John and Bato, go to

About Care4Calais

Care4Calais was founded by a group of volunteers with the sole aim of supporting the people of the Calais refugee camps, providing fresh meals, warm clothing, heating and important legal and medical support.

We are not politicians – we are people like you who simply believe that every human has the right to be treated in a fair and dignified way.

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