By Anna Wardell, Administrator and Volunteer Coordinator, Bristol City of Sanctuary
As I sit here and watch the evictions going on in Calais, I cannot help but reflect on the camp that I saw a mere two weeks ago. Being in Calais at such a volatile time, short-term volunteers were quite rightly asked not to go into the camp to volunteer but instead to help out at the warehouse. I was however lucky enough to go to “the jungle” to watch a cricket match between volunteers and Afghani refugees. It was heart-warming to see the trust and friendship between volunteers and those living in the camps. They interacted like old friends, with back-slapping, joking and laughter. At one point a young boy came up to the crowd of volunteers gathered to watch the match and asked a group to look after his jacket whilst he joined the game; a small gesture that demonstrated a huge level of both trust and innocence. These are the images that should be broadcast on our national media.
Images that remind those that need reminding that the inhabitants of the camp are not the threatening presence that has been implied in headlines over the past few days, but human beings forced to live their lives in unspeakable conditions. Human beings who take the joy in the little things, like the fielder losing his hat every time he dove for the ball, and the cheers that erupted around the audience when the ball went into the fence.
Being in Calais those few short days opened my eyes to the compassion of others. Those volunteering in the warehouse were united by their determination to help in whatever way they could, from sorting through shoes to checking tents for their suitability for the camp. On two of the days, fifteen of us formed a production line, filling bags for people to use once evictions started to happen. It was tedious and repetitive work, but the volunteers did it with enthusiasm, all aware of the importance of the work. In some of the donated bags were notes from school pupils, sending their best wishes to the refugee who would eventually receive the bag.
This feeling of good will was reinforced by Tesco in Redfield, Bristol donating 50 bags for life to the camp, bags that were used for dried food packs. It is all too easy to become cynical in this world, fighting with the daily dose of anti-migration rhetoric by news outlets and politicians, but the little acts like this were a welcome reminder that so many people do care.
So as we watch the events unfold over the next few days, all I ask is that we remember that the only difference between us and those residing in the camp, seeking refuge in a strange land, is that they were born in a place that can no longer offer them the safety and sanctuary that a home should provide.