Friday, 4 March 2016

Thinking of the Calais Jungle

So life flows through the courses of reassuringly regular routine.

The smoothie maker burns out, and I order another one at a knock-down price on Amazon – without delay, because all of us use it every morning.

The days lengthen and the year brightens – the deep greens and browns and greys of my winter clothes start to feel wrong; but it’s still so cold. I get my box of summer dresses down from the attic, but comb eBay for a colourful cardigan at a fraction of the cost of something new.

I sit in the garden conversing back and forth with my crow-call and the crow up in the ash tree.

I eat a pomegranate.

I monitor our meals conscientiously to be sure they are heart-friendly and weight-conscious, because we are growing old.

We sit together in the evening, a fire in the woodstove, watching a riveting crime drama – Icelandic, with sub-titles.

I iron my handkerchiefs.

I take in a parcel for a neighbour.

I heat up milk in a saucepan because I like my morning coffee milky.

Last thing in the evening I boil a kettle for a hot water bottle because the nights are still cold.

But, look.

All the while, underneath, like the ominous groaning of snow on the mountain before the avalanche breaks, like the hush of birds before the storm breaks, like the still dread before a heart breaks, I am aware of thousands upon thousands of refugees reduced to bare existence in makeshift shelters, refused and rejected, treated like herded cattle, turned away.

This last week in the Calais Jungle, black-uniformed French police in riot gear have tear-gassed and water-cannoned, brutally and unsparingly turned thousands clinging to small hopes and the first shoots of a new beginning, out of their homes. Beaten with truncheons, choking, eyes stinging, driven by fierce water jets, no time to pick up their small, few belongings; the settled and comfortable have waged war on the vulnerable and dispossessed.

In England, mendacious headlines have spoken self-righteously of ‘clashes with migrants’ and ‘clearing the camps’. Misleading photographs and deceptive captions have shielded our eyes from seeing and encouraged our hearts away from compassion – back to preoccupation with celebrity, with what to eat, what to wear, what to buy next.

But they – the refugees in the camps – their suffering is the crying of our consciences.

A man stands and watches the small shelter he had made from discarded pallets, sheet plastic, donated blankets – hacked and bulldozed into twisted wreckage. Tonight in this rain that is almost snow, he seeks shelter under the bare twigs of a winter tree.

But can we not see? Do we not grasp what is happening to us? Our souls become sclerotic, withered, frostbitten. Our life is struck sere to the root, we who let this happen in our midst.

Our national leaders mistake as their responsibility the guardianship of our interest, our affluence, our untouchable comfort. Thinking it the fulfillment of their duty, they have delivered us body and soul into the hands of Mammon; and you cannot serve God and Mammon.

Tonight, in Calais, not only does Christ shiver and cough in a wet sleeping bag in the mud under the winter sky, but the creeping paralysis of hell advances in our souls because of what we are doing, what we have done.

You see, when I think of the refugees in Calais – while I sit at my fireside, prepare the vegetables for supper, write my sermon for Sunday – it is as if it were not true. It is as if they did not exist. I help a little, send some money, send warm clothes and bedding; and then I put them out of my mind, because it is unbearable.

Our smiling, posturing, fist-thumping, finger-pointing political leaders, with their walls and fences, their guns and boots and riot shields, their barrel bombs dropped on smashed Syria, they have let us down, sold us out, given us to Satan.

For what does it profit a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?

‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’  Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment.

And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold.

Now. This is happening now.


Patricia Yandell said...

Sometimes you can know exactly where Christ is at this moment in time. He is walking across Europe, cold, hungry and in rags, standing at closed borders, sheltering wherever he can.
What have we become .....?
Isaiah 53: 2 "He had no form to attract us no beauty to win our hearts, he was despised the lowest of men, from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze, despised for whom we had no regard."

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Deborah said...

I'd like to know why they haven't applied for asylum in France. It's a safe country, they had to go through other safe countries to get to France. They chose to set up an illegal camp whereas they could have registered for asylum when they arrived and already have been processed. There are faults on both sides but the numbers being dealt with are HUGE. No country or group of countries can deal with such an influx so quickly. What do you suggest is done Pen?

Pen Wilcock said...

I don't know everything about this, but I assume that lots have sought asylum in France and in other European countries. The people stranded in Calais are seeking asylum in the UK, I think. In many cases that's because they already have family in the UK and are trying to reach them. If they come into France they have to apply for asylum there, then are no longer eligible to seek asylum in the UK, so lose the chance to be reconnected with their families.
I think there must be better ways to receive and process the people than shutting them out.
What I suggest is done - well - I think our government could have responded more constructively than building a seven million pound fence to keep them out. And I think the French and UK govt could recognise the humanitarian crisis and send some aid. They have had only volunteer help, and would have starved and frozen if they had relied on official help from France and England. Then, I think there are better ways to begin to clear the camp than tear-gassing people so they flee in pain, then trashing their little shelters. What the French govt has done, is provide metal container units on French soil, to accommodate about 1,000 people. But they have trashed the homes of about 3,000 people. Some of those are unaccompanied minors - at risk and vulnerable, trying to reach their families in the UK. Anyone who goes into the metal containers on French soil has to seek asylum in France, and as well as stopping them going on to the UK, it involves separating the lone children from the people they were travelling with - so they become even more vulnerable and at risk.
I think the govts should begin to process the onward movement of the people who are there, easing pressure on the situation. I think they should feed them. I think they should not trash their homes and belongings in the middle of winter. I think they should not teargas peaceable people, or turn water cannons on them, or beat them up - as the police have been doing.
The situation is not easy, but the work of the army of volunteers already in the camp shows it is possible to respond more constructively than the govts. After all, the volunteer help *is* the help of the people, so it could just as well be official. x

nadine said...

Thankyou Penelope for expressing so beautifully and meaningfully what I need to be thinking about this... I don't take the time to think as probably the emotions are so affected and I can't always think clearly. This has helped me...

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Sandra Ann said...

I right in also thinking that if they accept asylum in France, they will be allowed to stay but will not get the financial and practical help they need? At the end of the day, we are treating fellow human beings less than we would treat a stray animal. I am sick of governments wasting money on frivolous expenses and then punishing the weak, the disabled, the homeless and the refugee. Thanks for writing this piece San x

Pen Wilcock said...

Pleased to see that Médecins Sans Frontières has built a new camp at Dunkirk with proper, if basic, shelters. x

MaryR said...

I hear all you say, Pen, and you expressed it beautifully, but we no longer have enough school places, as there's been a vast increase in the number of immigrants these last two or three years, many of our hospitals are on their knees, there aren't enough houses for those who already live here, etc. Money is finite and we can't just provide these things at the drop of a hat. Mancy schools have so many children who can't speak English that the other children are suffering. I've taught classes in the past with one or two non-English speakers, and it's hard, very hard. You have to split youself in two. I wish I knew the answer, as I'm sure the Lord needs us all to open our hearts.

Pen Wilcock said...

I'm thinking not so much of the 'what' as the 'how', really. The things you mention are huge problems - and of course they are concentrated more in some parts of the country than others. Luton, for example, where a friend told me the school population was impossibly fluid - 20 languages spoken and you never knew how many of the children who started the school year would finish it. Really, really difficult.
But surely, if we have a flood of refugees streaming out of Syria, and cannot cope with those we have already, the last thing we should have spent money on is sending aeroplanes to drop bombs on a country already bombed to pieces - aiming at a target already bombed by the Russians. The planes waiting, engines running, on the runway on the night of the Commons vote, and our chancellor crowing "Britain's got its mojo back". What?
And those who have fled, managing as best they can in the mud at Calais, can we really do no better than tear gas and water cannons - not to quell riots but to drive them out of their flimsy shelters at an hour's notice, and herd them around.
I do not see an either/or situation. Because, in some but not all areas, our schools are overwhelmed, it doesn't follow that we have to teargas them and beat them with batons as the Calais police are doing. I think we can manage both/and. We could treat them with humanity and dignity while still remaining firm about how many we let in, and where, and at what rate.
Meanwhile, in France and Spain there are huge tranches of abandoned farmland - some with large numbers of empty houses. How about if the European nations chose to work together - if instead of spending millions on planes and bombs to decimate the Syrians' homeland, and a £7million fence to keep them out, we put the money to seeding new communities in the abandoned farmlands, thus strengthening the French and Spanish economies and ultimately generating rents for the landowners. I feel sure that could be done - or if that wouldn't work for some reason, I bet we could think of something. Perhaps drop the plans for the £24billion nuclear power station at Hinkley Point and use the money to help resettle people?

MaryR said...

Such places have been suggested by various people, Pen, but no one actually runs with the idea and thinks it through and makes it workable. They could also use the £50 billion money being wated on the hugh speed railway to the north, especially since major flws have now been detected in the plans.

Pen Wilcock said...

Oh yes - that £50 billion would come in handy! I think the saying "Where there's a will there's a way" comes in here, does it not?