#Shame –” Migration: MEPs assess refugee camps in Calais ” -A’Chouma

16 Jul


Migration: MEPs assess refugee camps in Calais

Others Article – Immigration14-07-2016 – 16:33 

European Parliament LIBE committee delegation to Calais  A delegation from the civil liberties committee visited camps for migrants near Calais

A delegation from the civil liberties committee went to Calais in northern France yesterday to assess the situation of people gathering there with the aim of crossing the Channel. The delegation, led by Portuguese S&D member Ana Gomes, visited facilities for migrants and refugees and met with representatives from local authorities, non-governmental organisations as well as French-British border authorities.
For years, the city of Calais and its surroundings have been a gathering spot for refugees and migrants, many trying to cross the Channel in order to join the United Kingdom. The “jungle” of Calais, a camp where thousands are still living, has become the highly-mediatised symbol of this situation.
On Wednesday 13 July, eight MEPs went to Calais and its environs to meet with local authorities, including the mayor of Calais and the prefect of Pas-de-Calais, members of civil society as well as refugees and migrants.
Ana Gomes, head of the delegation, said: “We came to Calais to find out directly what is happening, what the measures are that are taken by the authorities at the different levels to deal in a human way with the phenomenon of migration.”
MEPs visited among others the Linière camp located in Grande-Synthe, where 800 people are living, and the Jules Ferry day centre in Calais, which looks after 600 unaccompanied minors. They also went to the “jungle” itself.
“The only way to significantly reduce the influx of migrants and refugees is to open safe and legal [means]” in their own countries for them to access the EU,”  said Ana Gomes.
The delegation’s conclusions are now going to feed into Parliament’s legislative work.
MEPs are currently working on several proposals to better manage the migration crisis, such as a reform of the rules determining which country is responsible for an asylum application including a system to relocate refugees among member states, a safe list of countries of origin. They have also started to work on a legal proposal to reform rules on highly-skilled migrants coming to the EU to work.
In April MEPs adopted a report highlighting proposals to address migration challenges. Italian S&D member Cécile Kashetu Kyenge, co-author of the text and part of the delegation to Calais, stressed: “We are not lacking proposals, we are lacking a common vision in Europe.”
Read our top story to find out more about how Parliament is addressing the migration crisis.

REF. : 20160712STO36951

#FT –” The Calais migrants are Europe’s shame “, Philip Stephens

16 Jul


July 30, 2015 5:59 pm

The Calais migrants are Europe’s shame

Asylum seekers must be offered legitimate routes to settlement if they are not to cross the Channel
Ingram Pinn illustration


he migrant crisis at Calais is a story of human misery, war-torn and broken states and European denial. It speaks to a world in which advanced nations have lost the will, and some of the capacity, to prevent and resolve conflicts. Their politicians will not find an answer by drafting in more police or building higher fences.

An estimated 5,000 people are camped, in dreadful conditions, around the French ferry port and its entrance to the cross-Channel tunnel. The numbers have been rising through the year. So has the desperation of the migrants to make it across the 21-mile sliver of sea that separates France from Britain.

The governments of the two counties have spent tens of millions of euros on security measures to prevent the migrants from clambering on to trucks and trains. The effort, predictably, has been futile. This is what happens when policymakers opt to treat symptoms rather than causes.

Calais is the end of a funnel that has seen tens of thousands of migrants fleeing war and destitution in the Maghreb and beyond. Some are what politicians disdainfully call “economic migrants” — as if it is somehow reprehensible to seek an escape route from poverty and worse — but the largest portion are the victims of war. Syrians head the list, followed by Eritreans, Somalis, Iraqis and Afghans. What unites them is a belief that any risk — trekking thousands of miles across Turkey and the Balkans, drowning in the Mediterranean, falling under a truck or a train at Calais — is small measured against the dangers at home.

There is nothing new about large movements of displaced people. In recent memory, Europe has managed the influx of refugees from the former Yugoslavia as well as those from seemingly never-ending conflicts in Somalia and Afghanistan. What has changed — and this was a point eloquently made by António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, when he gave the Ditchley Foundation annual lecture this month — is the spread and persistence of conflicts in failed and failing states. The pendulum in advanced nations has swung from liberal interventionism to furtive inaction.

Mr Guterres observed that five years ago an estimated 11,000 people were fleeing war every day. By last year the figure had quadrupled to more than 42,000. Of these roughly two-thirds were internally displaced, but the remainder were forced to seek refuge abroad. The contrast he drew was with the 1990s. Then, albeit sometimes after much hesitation, rich nations acted — in Bosnia and Kosovo, Sierra Leone and East Timor. Now, whether it is South Sudan, the Central African Republic or Syria, the chosen posture is quiescence. Ten years ago the UNHCR helped a million people a year return to former conflict zones restored to stability. By 2014 the number had fallen to 126,000.

For all the panic generated by the 5,000 camped in the so-called “jungle” at Calais, Europe has been only slightly touched. Running scared of the populist right, politicians have lost a sense of proportion. An estimated 150,000 people have crossed the Mediterranean and Aegean in the first half of this year. That is much more than in 2014, but it is to be measured against a population for the 28-nation EU of about 500m; and it remains a small fraction of the 4m who have fled the civil war in Syria. Up to 2m Syrians have fled to Turkey and, as Mr Guterres noted, fully one-third of the population of Lebanon now comprises Syrian or Palestinian refugees.

In depth

Europe’s migration crisis

Europe's migration crisis

The EU is struggling to respond to a growing refugee crisis that has resulted in an estimated 1,600 deaths in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year

Further reading

European governments argue about how to share out the “burden” of 40,000 asylum seekers — most of them young men, many highly skilled and all eager for work as well as sanctuary. Germany and Sweden, two nations more open than most to the migrants, will profit from their generosity.

It should be obvious that individual states cannot go it alone. Barriers are being thrown up by nations across the continent. At very best they simply divert the problem. There are some in Britain who blame Europe for the crisis. These eurosceptics claim that by leaving the EU, Britain could reclaim control of its borders. The Calais crisis points precisely in the opposite direction. Without French co-operation David Cameron’s government would be powerless. Europe’s problem is Britain’s problem, and vice versa.

The pretence that fences are an answer pours fuel on to the fires of anti-immigrant populism. Voters are less worried by numbers than by the sense that governments have lost control. One answer is to replace the Calais jungle with Europe-wide centres to document the refugees and, if necessary, return illegal migrants to their home nations.

If genuine asylum seekers are to be persuaded not to risk life and limb crossing the Mediterranean or the Channel, EU governments must also offer legitimate routes to settlement. As for domestic public opinion, the politicians should have learnt by now that chaos fuels fear; fair, effective management provides reassurance.

The world has changed. The relative power of Europe has slipped still faster than that of the US, and with it the capacity to fix problems in its neighbourhood. That is not to say it can abdicate responsibility. The EU still has the tools — economic, political and military — to promote order beyond its borders, sometimes on its own, more often as a convening power. The Calais crisis is just one more a lesson in the costs of hiding under the bedcovers.


#Bidonville –” La zone nord de la “jungle” de Calais bientôt évacuée ” …

14 Jul

La zone nord de la “jungle” de Calais bientôt évacuée

La zone nord de la "jungle" de Calais bientôt évacuée
Le démantèlement de la zone nord de la “jungle” de Calais, un bidonville insalubre où se sont rassemblés des milliers de migrants espérant rejoindre le Royaume-Uni, devrait être annoncé “prochainement”, selon la maire LR de Calais Natacha Bouchart. /Photo prise le 24 juin 2016/REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol ((c) Reuters)

LILLE (Reuters) – Le démantèlement de la zone nord de la “jungle” de Calais, un bidonville insalubre où se sont rassemblés des milliers de migrants espérant rejoindre le Royaume-Uni, devrait être annoncé “prochainement”, selon la maire LR de Calais Natacha Bouchart.

Jointe par Reuters, la préfecture du Pas-de-Calais a indiqué qu’elle ne ferait aucun commentaire dans l’immédiat.

“D’après (les) derniers échanges avec l’environnement très proche de Bernard Cazeneuve (le ministre de l’Intérieur, NDLR), (le) démantèlement (de la) zone nord de la lande serait annoncé prochainement”, écrit Natacha Bouchart lundi sur son compte Twitter.

“Pour notre territoire, sa population et ses acteurs économiques, l’urgence est bel et bien là”, ajoute-t-elle.

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L’évacuation de la partie sud de la “jungle” de Calais, située à la sortie de la ville, s’est déroulée entre février et mars dernier. Elle abritait alors environ 3.000 migrants.

La zone nord, pour laquelle il n’était pas question d’une évacuation jusque-là, abritait en juin entre 5.500 et 6.000 personnes selon les associations, autour de 4.500 selon la préfecture.

Les autorités entendent à terme réduire à Calais le nombre de migrants à environ 2.000, 1.500 dans un camp aux normes humanitaires et 400 dans le centre Jules Ferry d’accueil de nuit pour les femmes et les enfants.

(Pierre Savary à Lille et Chine Labbé à Paris, édité par Jean-Stéphane Brosse)

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#Timberland –” Timberland « winter wool »”

17 Dec

Timberland « winter wool »

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Avec cette nouvelle campagne, la marque s’inscrit dans un nouvel univers, urbain et actif, où l’exploration n’est autre que celle de l’asphalte rythmée par l’agitation de la ville. Ainsi après BLACK FOREST, Timberland met en avant une nouvelle gamme, WINTER WOOL.
Avec WINTER WOOL, Timberland s’associe aux marques iconiques HARRIS TWEED et PENDLETON ® pour revisiter les modèles phares de la marque « out of the door ». Mix des savoir-faire, coupes épurées, matières premium et sens du détail sont les principaux composants de cette nouvelle ligne, réinterprétant le meilleur du passé pour créer une nouvelle identité, s’adaptant à un monde en perpétuel mouvement, parfaite définition du « Modern Trail ».


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#NPA– “Attentats : pourquoi il faut agir et discuter politique “

17 Nov

Attentats : pourquoi il faut agir et discuter politique

A +A


L’horreur des attaques terroristes qui ont eu lieu vendredi soir est indiscutable. 130 morts, auxquels s’ajoutent une centaine de blessés en danger de mort, cela fait de cet attentat le plus meurtrier sur le territoire. Loin devant l’attentat de janvier contre Charlie Hebdo et les attentats du GIA pendant la guerre civile algérienne dans les années 1990. L’existence de militants se réclamant de Daech, prêts à mourir pour assassiner autant de civils que possible, provoque notre indignation. Il y a trois réactions à cet événement, qui toutes sont politiques.

La réaction du gouvernement et d’une grande partie du personnel politique, voire syndical, est d’en appeler à l’Union nationale, de convaincre chacun•e de rester chez soi, d’exprimer sa compassion et sa solidarité avec les victimes par des actions individuelles, bougies aux fenêtres ou messages sur Facebook. Pour les laisser mener leur politique guerrière, il faudrait ne pas « faire de politique », refuser toute discussion ou action politique. Certains recommandent même d’exprimer une solidarité « française », faisant mine d’oublier que le même type d’attaques terroristes a endeuillé le Liban il y a seulement quelques jours et la communauté kurde de Turquie quelques semaines auparavant. Le gouvernement y ajoute l’état d’urgence, à savoir la restriction des libertés fondamentales (liberté de la presse, de manifester et de se rassembler, etc.) et la fermeture des frontières. Des mesures prises uniquement pendant la guerre d’Algérie mais aussi durant les révoltes des quartiers populaires en novembre 2005.

Ces mesures, que nous ne partageons pas, semblent cependant légitimes à la plus grande partie de la population, le gouvernement jouant sur la sidération pour en imposer l’évidence. Mais d’autres travaillent, à droite et à l’extrême droite. Des groupes néo-nazis (appartenant à la mouvance dite « identitaire ») appellent à expulser les « islamistes » tout en vociférant « Islam hors d’Europe », surfant ainsi sur l’ambiguïté d’un terme qui encourage l’amalgame entre « musulman » et « intégriste ». Ils appellent aussi à expulser tous les réfugiés, ceux et celles-là mêmes qui fuirent l’horreur répandue par Daesh. Certains, comme Philippe de Villiers – n’hésitent pas à pointer du doigt une « mosquéïsation de la France » ou, comme Laurent Wauquiez, à réclamer l’enfermement préventif de milliers de personnes dans des « centres d’internement »1. D’autres appellent à renforcer les interventions militaires en Syrie, en Irak, etc., ou, comme le directeur des rédactions du Figaro2, à engager une militarisation de la société française3.

C’est donc un discours politique – raciste, en particulier islamophobe, et va-t-en-guerre – qui est mis en circulation par la droite et l’extrême droite, non simplement à des fins électoralistes (même s’il s’agit pour certains de s’attirer les faveurs de l’électorat du FN) mais parce que la logique raciste et impérialiste est un fonds idéologique commun pour ces courants. Il a pour visée de radicaliser la population française contre un « ennemi intérieur » – dans une logique mortifère de « clash des civilisations » – et autour de mesures d’exception.

Le gouvernement, lui, efface ses responsabilités dans la situation de pourrissement du monde actuel, et de la société française en particulier. C’est bien ce pourrissement qui favorise l’intégrisme et le racisme. Pourtant, même si la majorité de la population préfère souvent fermer les yeux et faire mine de n’être pas au courant, la France est déjà en guerre, depuis de longues années. En Syrie, dans plusieurs pays d’Afrique, en Afghanistan, en Irak. Comment peut-on croire que des actes de guerres commis dans ces pays pourraient rester sans réponse ? Nous ne sommes pas indifférents à la situation de ceux qui, au Kurdistan, en Syrie de manière plus générale, en Iran ou ailleurs combattent les courants intégristes. Bien au contraire, nous sommes convaincus que la seule façon de les combattre réellement, sur un plan militaire et politique, est que la population de ces pays parvienne à construire des mobilisations de masse contre les gouvernements, à s’organiser pour son émancipation, dans l’indépendance vis-à-vis des grandes puissances et des classes dirigeantes. L’ingérence des puissances impérialistes ne peut que renforcer les groupes réactionnaires, en solidarisant une partie des populations avec ces groupes.

La politique de l’Etat français – non pas seulement de Hollande, mais aussi de Sarkozy et de leurs prédécesseurs – ne peut donc qu’accentuer les problèmes qu’elle prétend résoudre. Les mêmes causes produisant les mêmes effets, davantage de guerres et de morts ne produiront que davantage de désespoir et d’intégrisme. Si nous voulons vraiment empêcher de futures attaques terroristes, la seule voie qui s’offre à nous est d’obtenir le retrait des troupes françaises d’Afrique et du Moyen-Orient. Aucune politique répressive, aucune mesure d’exception, aucune intervention militaire, ne pourra empêcher des attentats. L’autoritarisme et la guerre composent une impasse mortelle pour les peuples.

Prévues cette semaine, des grèves à Air France, aux impôts et dans l’Education nationale ont d’ores et déjà été annulées. Empêcher la contestation de s’exprimer, ou la reporter à plus tard, c’est participer d’une forme d’union nationale. Or nous sommes convaincus justement que, face aux discours de l’extrême droite et face aux menées guerrières que préparent déjà les gouvernements, le meilleur moyen d’affirmer la solidarité des populations est de se battre pour bâtir un autre monde, sans injustices ni oppressions, sans guerre ni terrorisme, sur la base de la mobilisation collective.

Pour cette raison, nous n’arrêterons pas de « faire de la politique », car nous pensons vital de ne pas laisser la politique à ceux qui sont les responsables de cette situation de pourrissement que nous évoquions plus haut. Pour que ce genre d’événements ne se reproduise pas, il nous faut exprimer cette « politique des opprimés » qu’évoquait le regretté Daniel Bensaïd, à mille lieues de la politique des fauteurs de guerre et des marchands d’armes, qui prétendent défendre la « civilisation » mais n’hésitent pas s’allier avec les régimes les plus oppressifs (de l’Arabie Saoudite à Israël en passant par le Tchad). Une réunion unitaire aura lieu lundi soir, à l’initiative de nos camarades d’Alternative libertaire, pour discuter des réponses politiques et militantes que nous pouvons formuler. Notre compassion doit pouvoir s’exprimer autrement que par des discours et des actes individuels, prendre une forme collective et fraternelle affirmant la solidarité avec les victimes et le refus de la guerre, de l’autoritarisme et du racisme. Nous rassembler aussi largement que possible sur ce thème, et au plus tôt, est une nécessité pour combattre les tentations autoritaires, les discours va-t-en-guerre et les dérives racistes qui se multiplient dans le camp des dominants.

Antoine Larrache, Mimosa Effe, Ugo Palheta

  • 1. Voir : « A droite et à l’extrême droite, ça dérape », Libération.
  • 2. Voir : « Gagner la guerre ». L’édito s’achève de la manière suivante : Contre la brutalité, il n’est qu’un principe: la force. Contre la sauvagerie, qu’une loi: l’efficacité. On se souvient de Clemenceau: «En politique intérieure, je fais la guerre. En politique extérieure, je fais la guerre. Je fais toujours la guerre.» Pour gagner la guerre, il faut la mener.
  • 3. D’autres appellent à “prier pour Paris”, introduisant une dimension religieuse qui ne peut qu’éloigner les non-croyants, risque d’encourager une séparation entre chrétiens et musulmans, et ne permet pas d’exprimer une protestation collective contre les logiques guerrières qui déjà se mettent en place

Movies –” A Greek Tragicomedy: Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969) “

13 Nov

A Greek Tragicomedy: Costa-Gavras’s Z (1969)

How democracy dies

By Christopher Saunders (AllenbysEyes) ⋅ Posted on January 24th, 2015 at 6:32am ⋅ Last edit on January 26th, 2015
How democracy dies
How democracy dies
Christopher Saunders (AllenbysEyes)
Christopher Saunders (AllenbysEyes)
I’m afraid that you underestimate the number of subjects in which I take an interest!
Costa-Gavras’s lacerating satire of a country gone mad
We start with a dizzying montage: close-ups of military decorations, royal symbols, religious icons. All the emblems of reactionary order. Then we’re subjected to bizarre lectures by government officials, including a General (Pierre Dux) ranting about “mildew of the mind” and Communist agitation causing sunspots. “God casts no light on the Reds,” he comments, expounding on the need for society’s “antibodies” to combat leftists. The General’s audience seems as baffled as us, but no one contradicts him.

As if this weren’t jarring enough, next comes this title:

“Any resemblance to real events, or to people, alive or dead, is no coincidence. It is INTENTIONAL.”
Clearly, Z (1969) isn’t an ordinary thriller. Costa-Gavras’s film was a sensational hit, making over $14,000,000 internationally and winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. It also inspired generations of conspiracy dramas, from The Parallax View through JFK. But Costa-Gavras has something Alan Pakula and Oliver Stone lack: a sense of humor.

From the 1930s onward, Greece endured Ioannis Metaxas’s dictatorship, Nazi occupation during World War II, a brutal civil war and fractious democracy. In May 1963 two thugs killed Grigoris Lambrakis, a left-wing Parliamentary leader, following a protest in Thessaloniki. It emerged that his assassins had ties with high-ranking military and police officials. The resulting scandal destroyed Konstantinos Karamanlis’s government and fanned opposition protests. But it also strengthened the extreme right, who seized power in 1967.

Grigoris Lambrakis
Grigoris Lambrakis
These events inspired novelist Vassilis Vassilikos to pen Z, its title reflecting the pro-Lambrakis protest phrase Zei (“he lives”). Naturally the junta suppressed the novel, alongside subversive writings, dress style and music. Greece’s most prominent composer, Mikis Theodorakis, founded the Lambrakis Democratic Youth and served in Greece’s parliament. The junta jailed him and outlawed his music, arresting shop-owners who sold his records. Theodorakis got some revenge, penning Z’s defiant score while exiled to the village of Zatouna.

Mikis Theodorakis
Mikis Theodorakis
Vassiliko’s novel reached Konstantinos Gavras, a Greek-born filmmaker living in France. Costa-Gavras’s leftist father was arrested following the Civil War (1945-1949), Costa-Gavras himself barred from university: “I was a victim of the Cold War,” he recalled, traveling to France to study. He’d made a few minor films before 1969, but Z made Costa-Gavras a household name.

Costa-Gavras’s oeuvre probes governmental corruption and oppression. “We can’t not be involved” in politics, he comments. “By not taking a position, you take a position.” Later films include The Confession (1971), critiquing Eastern Bloc Communism; Missing (1982), set in Pinochet’s Chile; and Amen (2003), exploring Vatican complicity in the Holocaust. Yet Z’s blend of humor and immediacy makes it stand out.

Z never explicitly identifies its setting, with French actors, Algerian locations and generic characters: Yves Montand is “The Deputy,” Pierre Dux “The General”, Jean-Louis Trintignant “The Magistrate.” Costa-Gavras acknowledges the silliness: one scene features a close-up of Greece’s King Constantine, with his face cut out! But the setting couldn’t be anywhere but Greece – something we’re reminded of when Irene Papas materializes as The Deputy’s widow.

Yves Montand as The Deputy
Yves Montand as The Deputy
Z relishes humiliating its reactionary villains. The General rants about his “antibodies” purifying Greece through violence and intimidation. (If this seems overdone, compare to General Georgios Papadopolous comparing Greece to “a patient in a cast…We break the initial cast and…put another cast where is needed.”) At film’s end, he’s confronted by a reporter (Jacques Perrin) who compares him to Alfred Dreyfus. Incredulous, The General roars: “DREYFUS WAS GUILTY!” He makes Dr. Strangelove’s General Ripper seem well-adjusted.

American thrillers show a government with infinite resources to destroy evidence and silence witnesses. Z’s conspirators are remarkably crude: the Deputy’s murder is executed by two bumbling thugs Yago (Renato Salvatori) and Vago (Marcel Bozzuffi), who publicly club him. Later they try running a witness down in broad daylight; Vago sneaks into a hospital to finish someone off, grinning cheekily when caught! Greece’s New Order is built on such bozos.

Marcel Bozzuffi as Vago
Marcel Bozzuffi as Vago
Naturally, Z’s more nuanced depicting its heroes. After the Deputy’s death, his aides debate how to react. Should they mourn him or exploit his passing? Will the Deputy’s death instill sympathy or incite more violence? Greece’s youth spontaneously embraces the Deputy as a martyr: his death becomes an embarrassment for the government, who rush to cover up. The opposition realizes they need overwhelming evidence to prove official complicity.

Enter the Magistrate (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Bespectacled, clean-cut, son of a policeman, he’s reckoned an Establishment lackey who will abet the cover-up. Instead, he’s intrigued by inconsistent testimony (was the Deputy struck or did he hit the pavement?), insistent witnesses and everyone’s ties to an organization called CROC. At a key moment, he stops referring to the Deputy’s death as “the Incident” – now it’s “the murder.”

Jean-Louis Trintignant as the Magistrate
Jean-Louis Trintignant as the Magistrate
Modern viewers will recall Oliver Stone’s JFK (1992), which borrows the martyred politician, the prosecutor-hero and military conspirators – and, less defensibly, the demonic gay villains (Vago is a pederast). But Costa-Gavras isn’t content with Stone’s hazy conjecture. The Magistrate’s real-world analogue, Christos Sartzetakis, is a conservative who values law over politics. Accordingly, Trintignant isn’t a crusader but an objective analyst who can’t be bought, bullied or intimidated.

Thus follows a brilliant conclusion. The General smugly appeals to the Magistrate’s conscience. Soon the Magistrate serves indictments on Greece’s military establishment, unmoved by their threats of suicide or retribution. Costa-Gavras builds to a gleeful crescendo: officials march into the Magistrate’s office, receive sentence, then flee inquisitive reporters. Theodorakis’s triumphant score swells as bigger fish (evinced by their increased decorations) until the General’s snared too. Funny and karmic, it’s the perfect climax.

Pierre Dux as The General
Pierre Dux as The General
Then the gut-punch. Perrin’s journalist reveals that the perpetrators were acquitted or given light sentences: soon democracy dissolves, witnesses killed or disappeared, others jailed, the junta seizes power. Perrin’s replaced by another journalist who announces Perrin’s arrest! Finally, a list of things banned by the regime, from Sophocles to the Beatles to the letter Z. It’s a brilliant head-fake that crushes expectations. Exultation turns to disgust: the General’s mad pronouncements no longer seem funny. Now he’s in charge.

Defiant coda
Defiant coda
History vindicated Z’s protagonists. After seven years of brutal rule, student unrest and war on Cyprus finally toppled the Colonels. Prosecutor Christos Sartzetakis survived imprisonment and torture to become President in 1985. In recent years, Greece has experienced bumps – from its recent economic crisis to the rise of the far-right Golden Dawn – but remains steadfastly democratic. Sometimes, reality does have a happy ending.

#Nine –” Nine things I learned volunteering in the Calais refugee camp ” …

23 Oct
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Nine things I learned volunteering in the Calais refugee camp

I’m still in shock at how wrong my perception was of what a refugee is and what the ‘Jungle’ camp is like

I’m still not sure why I decided to go to northern France to volunteer at the refugee camp in Calais. I’m not political. I’m not an activist. I work three jobs in the fashion industry. I love makeup and fashion and am obsessed with all things celebrity. I am 26 and, except for a brief trip to the US, have never been outside Europe. But, like most people, I saw the photographs of little Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a beach. As I had some free time I just thought, Why not go over and help? So I contacted Ireland Calais Refugee Solidarity.

What followed was the most eye-opening experience I have had. Most of my 53 fellow volunteers had political, activist or charity-work backgrounds; I must have been one of the few who walked into the camp with no idea of what to expect. I hope what I saw there might persuade even one other person to reconsider their view of what a refugee is and what the camp is like.

1: It’s not a jungle

The series of camps around Calais are known as the Jungle, but they certainly don’t look like one. What we’re talking about here is a small corner of France inhabited by about 4,000 people. It’s a crowded piece of land surrounded by six-metre-high barbed-wire fences. Playing football with some Sudanese guys, I felt as if I could have been in a shanty town in Mumbai. Britain and France spent €18 million building the fence around the camps. But the few toilets are left unemptied and overflowing.

2: There’s nothing to be afraid of

As we drove from the ferry to our hostel the night we arrived we saw hundreds of men walking through Calais towards the Channel Tunnel and, beyond it, England. I was almost in tears with fear. When I realised that the wine in the hostel was only €1.20 a glass, I drank quite a few, to help me sleep. One our first day in the camp I drove in with a builder. Men and women were shouting at us. I was shaking. When I got out I realised that they were shouting, “Welcome! Welcome!” Then they asked if they could help us build. Who knew? Refugees offering help, not looking for it.

3: It was actually quite safe

I spent the first day in camp with my iPhone practically padlocked to my knickers. I’d read about people being mugged for their phones and about how, if you were seen with one in your hand, men would fight over it to make a call. Within a couple of hours I knew I had nothing to worry about. At one point I dropped a €10 note on the ground. A stampede of guys fought about who would hand it back.

4: Refugees are generous In their eyes

we were guests and it was their responsibility to look after us. I had my first-ever cup of tea in the camp. I’ll probably never have a second anywhere – but under a tarpaulin, shielded from the rain and around a fire with some of my fellow volunteers and two guys from the camp, it became a really nice memory that I’ll keep forever.

5: Children live in the camp

I heard initially that it would be all men in the camp, but more and more women and children arrived, mainly from Syria, Sudan and Eritrea. I was taken aback by how seldom some of the children smiled, but I guess they’re used to volunteers coming in and out of their lives. At one point I was called into a tent that housed a family of three. The son, who was no more than a year old, was sick. He lay on the damp floor of the tent, staring into my eyes. I hope he gets out of there and gets to have a childhood that is even 10 per cent as privileged as mine was.

6: The food was delicious

I hadn’t thought it would be safe to eat in the Afghan restaurant run by a few guys in the camp. As there was neither sanitation nor hot water, I was sure I’d be vomiting for a week. How wrong was I? The food was so good that we ate there every day. I miss the rice and beans now I’m home. The camp also had a barber’s, a few shops selling basics such as water, cigarettes and chocolate, and a nightclub where everyone lets off steam. Living conditions are atrocious in the camp, so they’re making the most of what they have.

7: No one knows the difference between Ireland and Britain

At first I was livid about this, but when it dawned on me that I couldn’t find Sudan on a map I got over it. Listening to the stories of people living in the camp, it seems there are three main reasons that they’re heading for Britain. Number one: English is most of the refugees’ second language. Number two: many men in the camp already have families in Britain, where the family-reunification period is shorter than in many other European countries. Number three: Britain is considered a place of hope, where people from all over the world have been able to create lives for themselves and safely raise their families.

8: The camps are home to some seriously educated people

I met some Syrians who told me that they had two choices at home. They could enlist in the military to fight Islamic State or they could enlist in Islamic State itself. If that were my choice I’d leg it, too. Most people I spoke to in the camp were highly educated – hence the perfect English that meant I could talk with them – and just wanted to get to Britain to get decent jobs. I didn’t speak to everyone in the camp, and I’m sure that some have fewer skills to offer than others. I met one guy, a dentist, who promised to fix my teeth if he ever gets to Ireland. Fingers crossed. We also met builders, translators, doctors and engineers.

9: You can make a difference

It’s pretty easy to live with the idea that it’s impossible for one person to make a difference, especially in a crisis of such magnitude. But, collectively, our convoy had a huge impact on the camp. A lot of my friends have messaged to say things like, “The world needs more people like you.” I’m not exactly Mother Teresa, so I see no reason why they can’t be those people themselves. Be the change you wish to see in the world. The more you lead, the more people will follow. No matter what you believe in, stand up.

Holly Shortall blogs at hollyshortall.wordpress.com;

You can find out more about volunteering at facebook.com/IrelandCalaisRefugeeSolidarity