Julie Ward, Labour MEP for the North West of England, visited the Jungle Camp in Calais in December and blogged about what she saw and heard. She returned to the less well known Grande-Synthe camp outside Dunkirk in January.
The December storms that devastated some areas of the UK and Ireland in late December passed over France too, leaving “flimsy tents and temporary structures … below the water table and quite literally swamped, adrift in a morass of gigantic mud pools”.
I think about the muddy trenches endured by soldiers 100 years ago and how two world wars were supposed to liberate us from racism and fascism. I don’t want to admit it was all in vain but I feel that the world is a bleak and sombre place and I struggle to know how I can be of assistance, just one voice in a sea of sorrow.
But someone tells me that the local mayor, Damien Carême, is being pro-active, trying to get things moving so that a properly serviced camp with toilets, water and better facilities can be constructed. This will be managed by Médecins Sans Frontières but it is still weeks away. Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer have also visited Grande-Synthe in recent days.
Perhaps together we can make a difference? It is incumbent on all of us to speak up, to say what we have seen with our own eyes and demand a political as well as a humanitarian solution.
Addressing a plenary session of the European Parliament in March, Julie Ward MEP drew attention to “the dire humanitarian situation of refugees living in appalling conditions in makeshift camps inside the European Union and on our borders”.
Exposed to the elements, refugees in camps such as the Calais and Dunkirk ‘jungles’ have had their rickety shelters flooded and destroyed and have received limited support to survive the winter. Their plight is in direct contravention of the basic universal norms of human rights and dignity that this European Union was founded upon.
In the meantime, women and children in these camps lack the basic facilities they need, including health care, sanitation and education. Whilst we do not help them, unscrupulous traffickers step in.
Instead of a humanitarian response, we have seen police violence and aggression and forced evictions. It is tragic that those who have had to flee the horrors of Daesh in Syria and have had to risk their lives on perilous journeys in search of shelter must now encounter such callous treatment by our fellow Europeans.
We, as decision makers, must take the time to see these camps with our own eyes and to speak and to listen to some of the refugees ourselves, as I have done.
Photo: Julie Ward