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For some reason my car breaks down. I don’t even know why. But luckily, it happens in Essen and not on the way to Calais. And then, the guy from Western Union who is supposed to hand over the money transfer for the rice I am to distribute to the refugees in Calais doesn’t want to give it to me because my name is spelled wrong. This journey seems jinxed. And the songstress who is supposed to take me with her in her car has had her mobile off for three hours. I am standing in front of my friend’s flat and I feel sick. If she doesn’t turn up within the next hour I will have to take the train, or hitchhike.
All my friends ask me what I am trying to gain from going to the Camp. The media have already reported on it. For some, the question is justified; but to me it seems incredibly stupid. Every author has his own way to represent something. Why shouldn’t I do the same? Besides, I can’t back down on my word. I said I would go, so I will go.
My mobile rings and it’s the songstress. She speaks broken German and explains she is at Essen railway station. I rush there in order to not lose any time.
Three hours we drive West and nothing remarkable happens. 40 kilometres to Calais. Then I notice a group of five people walking along the motorway ahead. That must be the first refugees. It has begun.
At a service station my assumption is confirmed. I get out of the car, say hello to the guys and take a few photos. The songstress and I don’t have a hotel room yet. We say goodbye to the others in order to reach our destination by daylight and promise to keep in touch. The daylight thing doesn’t work out. So we decide to sleep in the car, in a car park right by the sea. Before I rest, I take a walk by the sea in order to reflect. Calais is beautiful. It seems very peaceful. It doesn’t look any wilder than, say, Stuttgart. Everything nicely kept and no rubbish on the roads. The sea air is soothing. Whatever tomorrow brings, I am ready. One thing is obvious already – you can’t plan anything here. It always happens differently.
I understood this thing with the refugees differently. Hotel, beach and cover of costs somehow. (The songstress)
The next morning in a restaurant, my travel companion reveals that she had expected the whole thing to be a bit different. She wants to discuss it. But I am in no mood for that shit. So I take my suitcase and backpack out of her car and say good-bye whilst heading West along the country road.
I’m glad I paid for petrol on the way here, I am thinking. But no matter. No time to discuss. I can’t lose sight of my goal right now. Apropos goal, I think – where am I? Just start walking. And don’t look back. Also don’t check inside the wallet. Because there is only 175 Euro left, minus the petrol cost from Essen to here.
On the road, there are small groups of refugees every few hundred metres walking along towards a parking lot. I join them. Let’s see what I can find out here. In the parking lot next to the motorway I meet a group of Sudanese. Sudanese always speak Arabic and they are always very friendly. One of the refugees is so tired he has lain down on the bare tarmac to rest.
I address a thin man in a felt coat who is smiling at me. His name is Anwar Ali. He is, like almost all on this parking lot, Sudanese. Anwar explains to me that tonight under the cover of darkness, he will attempt to climb across the motorway and over the fences in order to get to the tunnel. He wants to jump on a train there. I can’t picture what he has in mind. So I ask him to take me there and show me how he plans on doing it. He looks at my suitcase and laughs. He asks if I want to take all that with me. It occurs to me only then that Anwar thinks I am an refugee, too. Whilst we hide my suitcase in some nearby shrubs, I explain to Anwar that I have German citizenship and my escape had already been completed by my parents before my birth, fortunately.
After a solid 3 kilometres walk across several fields and motorways, Anwar and I reach a border control post near the tunnel. The police officer explains to me that I can go on but that my companion has to turn around. That there is a Zone around the tunnel here, where the refugees are not allowed. He also explained to me that the refugees don’t tend to try to run into the tunnel but instead they jump on the passing freight trains in order to get to the UK in the cover of darkness.
A Sudanese managed to get into the tunnel on foot. He was clever. No, he IS clever. Because he is still alive. He managed to walk the whole 50 kilometres only to be arrested in the UK. He is in prison now. But they can’t get rid of him. His country is a war zone.
When the officer sees me smile he drops his stern look and takes out a packet of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. He even offers me one. Before I can get my camera out, one of his colleagues storms out of the van parked about 20 metres away. This officer isn’t as friendly as the first one. ‘Go away, go away!’ He tries to show me who’s boss. He probably wouldn’t dare speak to his wife at home like that.
I have never been able to tolerate people like him. That’s why I can’t help myself and give him a little piece of my mind to take away with him. I ask him if he is the officer who always uses a litre of pepper spray on the refugees. I had seen it on TV and was pretty sure it was him. By now, both of the police officers look at me sternly. I don’t have a place to sleep yet but a prisoner cell is not what I had in mind. So I keep my mouth shut and turn around to walk away.
Anwar has not understood a word but he laughs at me and looks at my cigarette. Which we then smoke together on our way back. On route to my suitcase in the bushes, my new friend tells me about all sorts of versions of failed attempts at immigration. From countless broken legs to electrocution in one of the trains’ electric cables right down to a woman run over by a lorry, there are many examples of how people lose their lives here in order to reach their destination.
I try to discourage Anwar from his plan. But he remains adamant. If he makes it past the controls, he will jump.
Either England or death.
We are dead anyway if they force us back to Sudan.
I don’t know Anwar well enough yet. But I think that he is more honest than most people I met in the past week. Anwar doesn’t want to be portrayed in a good light at the expense of others or even just look good on camera in Calais, which is what I wanted him to do. No, Anwar just wants to be free. And for that, he is prepared to risk all. I give him a T-shirt as a present, say my good-byes and head in the direction of the town centre.
It’s now seven or eight kilometres to Calais. I really want a hotel near the centre. I am sure I will get connections there quite quickly. Perhaps other journalists with a car or similar? But before I find something like that, I find out something different first. The hospitality of the inhabitants of Calais. Or rather, the lack of it.
Somewhere in the city there appears to be a street party or fun fair. Everywhere people are walking around with kit and caboodle. Everyone looks at me as if I were an alien with green skin. I don’t like it. On my third attempt to try and ask my way to the town centre it dawns on me that it’s not the fact that people don’t know the way which is hindering my progress, but rather that it is their rejection and fear. They think I am one of the refugee. Unbelieveable. But why not. Here is a Paki with a suitcase walking around near the tunnel. What else could I be, other than an refugee?
Photo: Hammed Khamis | Translation by Ulrike Muller