A Jungle No More
I’ll never learn. Ask people if you should blog about something, and like all my great friends, those that answer will mostly pour out the encouragement. Thanks guys! I’m sure you all know about the dire situation going on down in Calais, where hundreds of asylum seekers are being made homeless, despite having only tarp shelters to call home in the first place.
I have to admit this is the kind of issue I tend to avoid at all costs, not because I’m not passionate about it, but because I know that passion leads me to get so uptight about the issue that I either can’t sleep or focus on everything else I have to get done, or I get totally depressed and burnt out on the thought of doing anything, or I just end up really uselessly mad. One can have righteous anger, and one can have anger that prevents action. This news story comes perilously close to the latter.
Had I the cash and the time, I’d probably be in Calais right now, charging round with a camera or video camera, making notes on police actions, sleeping out with groups of asylum seekers and being a witness to it all. Sadly not enough activists could be rallied to put up an actual defence of the camps, which could have been an amazing show of humanity, even if not totally successful.
There seems to be this total inevitability to anything bad that happens to Asylum Seekers. BNP get elected, terrible but inevitable. A country tightens its rules on immigration, terrible but inevitable. Some asylum seekers get deported. There are brutal attacks on members of the asylum seeker community, all these things are to be seen as terrible, but inevitable. And that inevitability is infectious.
But for years, despite xenophobia, there have been waves of immigration, to which arguments for stronger border controls have been made. For years, racism and fascism have popped up their heads, only to be smacked down, either electorally, or through people power, or indeed through the second world war. Why this time? Can there really be a good excuse for consigning ourselves to living in a siege-state now that hasn’t been an excuse in the past?
History should surely teach us that things aren’t inevitable until they’ve happened; that we have the ability, the agency, to act. Why is this being allowed to happen? Because we’re allowing it to happen! Have we totally forgotten that fact? A few decades ago, politics was talking of removing borders and barriers to human interaction, and yet now we’re talking as if borders are permanent and inevitable.
The Jungle was a nice place, nor a singular entity, as anyone who followed the details will know: the Afghan jungle, the Pashtun jungle, each known for its common language and culture. It was never safe and it was never a happy place to be. But it was a place of resolute determination and collective strength. And now it is gone, we are left with people suffering alone or in much smaller groups, under constant threat.
But these people were demanding something that wasn’t theirs to have, one might argue. We should ask ourselves why there are no economic opportunities in their home countries. Is it because of war? If so, who’s wars (hint: Iraq and Afghanistan supply much of the immigration “problem”). Is it because of economic exploitation, because the wealth that should be theirs is now somewhere else? If so, where is that wealth? Is it in London, doing the rounds as bankers’ bonuses?!
This is not an issue in isolation, and we must be clear that denial of immigration is the last stand in an attempt to separate the people of countries made poor from the wealth we have appropriated from them through whatever means. They are a tiny percentage of the victims of our own wars; the majority forced to remain in neighbouring countries. They are the victims of a changing climate, first interfered with through the burning of coal in factories on British soil at the start of the industrial revolution, when capitalism as we understand it was just beginning to get going. It is our problem, and we must not attempt to see it as a sign of someone else’s greed, but rather our own.
I’ve written plenty for people to get their minds around, and thankfully, I don’t feel too depressed. I just hope that somehow, with the new vulnerability that the asylum seekers in Calais are finding, people feel compelled to act, to get a car, fill it with food and blankets and drive to Dover for the ferry to Calais. It really could be that simple, and you could do an enormous amount in just one weekend, given the scale of the need. And there are plenty of other ways to help out.