When Esther and I set off on our trip to Cape Town one of the first things we saw in Morocco where the forests where Moroccan Military Police where clearing migrant camps around the border with Ceuta. We had to go looking for them, and in the end all we saw were lines of Moroccan military vehicles with soldiers prone to embark into the wooded forest. Apart from the occasional gun shot ringing out the mass of forest absorbed the tension and led you to question weather anything was happening at all.
Here in Calais the forest is thinner, and lines of journalists direct you to the shanty town of tarps and smouldering wood fires.
I found the Pashtun Jungle. It’s the largest with around 400 men camping out. I ask them about their journey. It’s my first encounter with Afghanis. Their eyes reveal their determination and single minded obsession. Trucks to Tehran, clinging on under lorries to cross into Europe, 3 days in a container with no food, trekking through hills eating just fruits from trees. This final leg 13 miles across the channel the last stage in a journey that has taken some 3 months, some a year.
Two boys tell me they are aged 11 and 12. They’ve travelled together and are now forming part of this community. They look young but their eyes are quick and smart. I ask one man if knowing how hard the journey is, he would try it a second time. He says no, but others are adamant that being sent back is as good as suicide.
An older man tells me in Afghanistan he was imprisoned by the Taliban in a cave for 3 months for not helping them. I ask him about the route to India and he comes alive, reciting the kilometres to between cities on the route. He was a taxi driver and for a moment as he talks he’s back in that world where he had a job and probably a family. The look soon fades as he is re-consumed by his current surroundings, the shanty around the edge of a smoky industrial estate.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Hrazeem asks greets me with a song and a dance. I suspect he is mocking me and the other journalists that are sheepishly looking around, anxious about upsetting sensibilities with cameras. He tells me he speaks English, because that’s the only English phrase he knows. Actually he isn’t taking the piss, he’s just bored, and restless and passing the time. We chat by drawing pictures in the sand
Rumours are abound that the police will storm the camp tonight, tomorrow or by the end of the week, rounding up the Afghans and deporting them. It’s been announced by the local politicians. Jerome for the organisation Salam (an NGO that helps by providing meals) tells me they do it every so often and then the camps build up again.
There are other camps in the area but this is the largest and the one with the media spotlight so potentially the biggest flashpoint.
I recognise the smell and the desperation of the impeded journey. I’ve seen it before in Morocco when we found a safe house of Nigerians in Fez, before that in two Sierra Leoneans I met in Nouadibou. There’s a delirium that drives the pressure of the impeded journey. Nothing else matters, not safety or laws. To some degree I even lived that on my first journey when I risked my life in a minefield to get back from Mauritania, such was the momentum of the battle with the authorities.
Why press on to England instead of seeking asylum in France. “England Good!” the common chorus, France by contrast is a shithole shanty town next to a plastics factory. In a way that makes me proud to be British.
Having worked undercover in the immigration removal and custody service for a BBC documentary I think the reason Britain is so keen to downplay election corruption in Afghanistan is to certify it as a safe country to which nationals can be removed. Thankfully the removals process is rife with ineptitude, and unless your police are jackbooted (as they are here in France) it’s quite hard to do with full regard to civil rights.
How is this related to carbon footprints. Well it comes down to global social justice. Rich nations exploit the resources of poorer ones to maintain the quality of life of its benign and naive citizens, who then turn to migrants and say, No, you can’t share in our wealth. This is happening with the environment too, rich nations exploit it and pollute it disproportionately to poorer nations and then point the finger at the Chinese and Indians.
Open borders then? I’m not sure it’s that simple, but why not. I’ve never understood why there is a moral difference between economic and political migration. The complete lack of opportunities created by a corrupt government is a form off oppressions on it’s people. That’s why people risk their lives to travel to new countries.