The Info Bus is a space for people to connect, online and offline, with the world and with each other says long-term Calais volunteer, Chris Afuakwah, who describes the stark realities of the Refugee Crisis, and explains how the Refugee Info Bus project is on a mission to counteract hostility
A 16-year-old Oromo boy is practising his English, reading aloud a book aimed at children called People and Places, which begins with a paragraph along the lines of “no matter where people live in the world, everybody has shelter, food, water, friends and family. People live in houses of different shapes and sizes with walls, windows and a roof…”
We look around together at the desolate wasteland that has been the boy’s “home” for seven months; it is strewn with leftover food, bin bags, sodden clothes and broken tents. In the corner of the muddy field, a group of CRS officers – French riot police, funded partly by the UK taxpayer – carry away his tent for the second time in three days. Volunteers stand filming the clearance, have their IDs checked, are intimidated and shoved around but stand their ground, documenting daily Human Rights abuses at the UK border.
Everybody talks about Europe’s “refugee crisis”, but it is a crisis of humanity. The strategy for “solving” the refugee crisis appears to be making Europe as hostile an environment as possible, forcing people to return to the mouth of the shark that they’re fleeing from.
Calais is a harsh wake-up call to the cruelties of the world and the human condition. Basic needs that we take for granted are stripped from people because they are “other,” and nobody bats an eyelid when a teenager is run over by a truck, or a child, is shot dead by the police.
In May 2018, a two-year-old girl was shot dead by the police at the Belgian border. Mawda. If you take nothing else from this article, please remember her name. Trade continues on, holidaymakers pass through on their way to Europe, tutting at “all those migrants” they pass at the side of the road.
Combatting this hostility
The Refugee Info Bus – and the many organisations we work alongside – exists to combat this hostility. We provide information about the asylum systems in France, Greece and the UK; we research policies and news, we provide free Wi-Fi and phone-charging facilities, and signpost people to relevant services. And we provide solidarity, regardless of weather conditions; when a friend dies, so that people can contact their family; when tents are cleared, to provide respite from the harsh Calais weather; and on sunnier days too, with music and games and laughter; to forget where we are for just a moment.
We don’t always get it right – the Wi-Fi sometimes has connectivity problems, the generator can be temperamental, our gazebo concaves in the wind. But we strive to make an unbearable situation slightly more bearable.
We work to help people in the long-term, too. For people navigating the complex and ever-changing Greek or UK asylum systems, we have information in both video and written form available online, enabling us to reach audiences far beyond those we can meet in our mobile vans. We will continue to expand our capabilities in this area.
The situation is deteriorating across Europe. There are over 1000 men, women and children sleeping rough in Calais and Dunkirk as it stands. Whilst this is a considerably lower number than that of those that were living in the Calais “Jungle,” living conditions now are arguably much worse. In Greece, more than 60,000 people are stranded, living in camps operating at three times their capacity, or sleeping on the streets. Thousands of people are dying each year in the Mediterranean Sea, and nobody even blinks.
We are more aware of what’s going on in the World than ever, and it’s easy to become disillusioned. But we can’t. We just can’t. We have to take notice, stand up and speak out before it’s too late.
Please support us to continue our vital work in France, Greece and the UK.
Facebook: Refugee Info Bus
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