Learning through action: Reflection on a visit to Calais

Kirsty, a sixth form student from a Catholic school in Hallam, travelled to Calais last weekend with other young people and teachers. The four-day visit was part of a programme exploring the ‘crisis of welcome’ for refugees at our borders. It was led by the Columbans and the Diocese of Hallam. She writes:

Before volunteering in Calais, I had an idea of what it would be like: what I would hear, see and learn. These preconceived ideas were mostly incorrect. Because of this, I firstly urge everyone to look into working with refugees – particularly those intending to cross the channel.

“Why would we fight when we’ve all come here to flee war and conflict?” A common belief is that the camps are full of violence and separation between groups. This is in fact a complete juxtaposition of the truth. I was overwhelmed by the camaraderie and community spirit all around me. The refugees shared in each other’s hopes and aspirations, despite their different beliefs, faiths and nationalities. Before listening to their stories, I didn’t understand quite how difficult and long a venture it was. I heard numerous stories of journeys of up to 10 years just to get to Calais, making it abundantly clear that the decision to leave their homes was not made lightly and was out of necessity. the full article is available on our website[/stopprint]

As volunteers with Care4Calais we helped to fix bikes, mend clothes and shoes, exchange friendship bracelets, teach English, make hot drinks, play games, litter pick, give out leaflets and distribute donated items. Notably, many of those we saw still have great pride for their nations (which they represented with bracelets in the colours of their respective flags). Many of them wish to be educated in order to earn money that they can then invest back into their communities. These are innovators, activists, problem solvers and leaders who were brave enough to stand against injustice. They would benefit England’s workforce, if treated as our equals.

Our time spent volunteering was always followed by time for reflection. Before the day started, we would meet for morning prayer, where we would discuss and record our hopes and fears for the day. This would be followed by two later reflections. One was a debrief with the wider Care4Calais group, to share stories that touched us and follow up with questions. Then later – as a smaller group – we gathered to share what we learned and reflect in prayer. Similarly, we spent time with facts and statistics which gave details of the Channel crossings.

Too often legislation is set without being critiqued empathetically. Many of those seeking refuge will go through a painstaking process to be recognised as an asylum seeker. Many will never reach this status and are dismissed back to danger because of minute technicalities that shouldn’t matter when a human being is in need. People are turned away for being presumed a different age to what they claim, though this can’t be proved. Additionally, it’s easy to mix up details of your life after hours of interviews; however, human flaws are not often accepted in the process of seeking sanctuary.

The Western world is good at shining a light on humanitarian issues for very brief spurts of time. We then have a social media hashtag and collect donations to be sent in aid. Despite this being beneficial in raising awareness and helping refugees in the short term, the public outcry ends in the blink of an eye. It becomes too easy for the government to once again ignore those in need. The shoes, clothes, tents etc. that we send are slashed, broken and burned consistently in police raids.

The only way we can cause long term change is by advocating for it. This is more crucial than ever with the new Illegal Migration Bill being pushed forward. This Bill states that any refugee entering the UK illegally will be detained and removed back to their homeland or a third-party country. We need our communities to rally like the migrants do and refuse to be ignored in the face of a gross human rights violation. It’s crucial that we hold politicians accountable as it is policies and laws that we need to change. Refugees are not criminals to be locked away on barges. Refugees are not deserving of being isolated and displaced. Refugees are not suspects to be interrogated endlessly. They are people searching for peace. Why can’t we grant them this?

Source ICN https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/47629
Columbans in Britain: www.facebook.com/ColumbansBritain