As the Care4Calais volunteers set up to distribute jumpers to refugees in northern France, R comes over to say hi. It’s lovely to see the likeable 23-year-old Kurdish man again after 3 months. ‘Mama!’ he calls – a joke from last time when he found out I was volunteering alongside my daughter. He’s exactly the same age as she is. Now, he shows me photos of his family, and his sister even looks quite like her.
A sense of failure
Although it’s great to talk, for R, meeting us again drives home his sense of failure. His friends have made it to the UK and he’s still trapped in northern France. I don’t ask how his friends travelled. They probably risked their lives in the stormy Channel in flimsy dinghies. Right now, we’re experiencing hailstorms and 55-mph gusts of wind. I secretly hope that R waits until spring brings calmer waters before attempting to reach the UK to make his legal claim for asylum.
Coming from Britain, I am angry that refugees have to risk their lives to make a legitimate claim for sanctuary. And I am angry about the government’s isolationist stance and determination to reduce migration.
Hoping for safety
But the dream of the UK is still alive and kicking among all the refugee groups we meet. They are mostly Sudanese, Kurdish and Afghan people fleeing conflict or persecution. The 3 per cent of refugees in Europe that try to reach the UK usually have connections there. Their relatives or friends who have made it to England generally feel safer since reaching our shores. And they are no longer living rough in freezing temperatures. One man comes to the refreshments table. He touches the £ sign on a £1.19 pack of digestive biscuits and puts his finger to his lips to kiss it. ‘I love the UK’ he smiles.
Having volunteered a few times with Care4Calais, I see that their work is vital. They bring clothes, equipment, refreshments and a chance for normal social interaction. But as founder Clare Moseley explains, we can’t do this forever. We really need to challenge our government’s hostile narrative about refugees and migrants and stop demonising people for wanting a better life. With an ageing population, the UK needs young, resilient, resourceful people who are keen to work hard and are committed to their new home. Some of these people are refugees in northern France. Rather than shunning their offer, we should welcome it.