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With my head lowered I walk on with the lads, trying to gather my thoughts. Eli is a really good human being. I have watched him pray. He knelt down just the same as Muslims do. And thus showed me something I will be able to use in future when discussing religious differences: there is no difference. It’s the human being who counts. Thank you, Eli.
If there is a Church here in the Camp then there must be a Mosque as well. After all there are plenty of Sudanese living here. And Sudanese, especially from the North, are mostly Muslim. So I ask amongst the people who pass us and find out that very close by, near the Afghan quarter, they did indeed build a Mosque. A few minutes later we stand in front of a building about 30sqm in size and admire the same phenomenon as at the Church a few minutes before. The Afghans even built some sort of a porch in front of the entrance. This is where we take our shoes off in order to enter. At that point, even Jasper stops talking.
The reason is obvious: just as with the Church, it is simply peaceful in here. I enjoy looking at the prayer images on the walls. Then I sit down on the carpet. This, as in most Mosques, is divided into separate prayer areas. It is beautiful to behold: this is such a good space to pray.
Further on there is a library which, like so many things here, was built here by French volunteers from wood and plastic sheets. The library is a hut around 15sqm in size, in which so far there are only two shelves with books.
Outside the library sit Bill and Kate. Bill is a retired biophysicist. He plans online projects through which everyone can assist effectively. Kate is a confident and caring woman who already started off several projects in the Jungle in order to distract the refugees here a little from their stressful situation. Today, she has brought balloons and blows them up together with refugee children.
The footpath through the Jungle is fringed with many impressive facilities. I have found mini-shops, eateries, electric and water points, even hairdressers. Sadly, it is also embossed with stinking rubbish. And when you leave, you realise that the rubbish only gets denser off the main track. There are mainly empty beer cans and it does look like the slums you see on TV. The downside of this place expresses itself through rubbish, foul smells and indifference.
Every time my gaze hits that of an refugee it creates a feeling of shame. The refugees seem to be ashamed of their situation. And I feel ashamed that my appearing as a European has made them feel shame. These people have to live in shambles.
And every bit of rubbish one can see here – be it a tetra-pack or a discarded razor blade – has a little shred of human dignity stuck to it.
It’s only now that it really dawns on me just how huge the desperation is in this place. This is not a Holiday Camp that you just visit for a few weeks. In the Jungle of Calais live only those who have a massive problem in their homeland. Why else would they be ok living in a place like this? Nobody in their right mind would leave their family and home behind to come and live in a place like the Jungle.
Coming out of the Camp I see an refugees sitting outside his tent. He is kneeling on his prayer rug. Peace and tranquillity in light of a hopeless situation.
Without a word, the three of us step along the sheer endless road in order to leave the Camp for the town centre. As it happens, I haven’t been able to walk any more for ours now but Jasper and Volkan urgently want to visit the Eurotunnel. In front of and behind us, groups of refugees from all over the world are on the move who all seem to have the same aim: the tracks to the UK. At the end of the road, Jasper talks to a group of four Pakistani men. One of them speaks English. We joke together and even find a way to laugh again. The guys tell us they are on their way to the tracks. I am dog-tired but I want to accompany them nevertheless.
You have to have visited the tracks. How can I report about Calais without having seen the reason for the Jungle’s existence with my own eyes? But our tiredness wins. We decide to go there tomorrow instead.
It’s five kilometres to the Hostel. We start talking to people in cars. We offer 15 Euros for the journey. The third car is giving us a lift. The driver’s name is Mark. He is a 42-year old Englishman with a Hungarian migration background. Mark has just arrived back from Gibraltar. He bought a red mobile home there, he is now on his way back to the UK.
Once we set off, I explain to Mark why the three of us are here. Mark encourages us to research the situation. He is on the side of the refugees. Mark offers us beer and water. We gladly accept. And wonder if we can pay him to drive us to the tracks as well? I ask. Mark is immediately game. Only ten minutes later we are near the Eurotunnel.
Our driver knows better than us as to where we need to go. The destination is some kind of industrial area. Everything here is very orderly. Trees and shrubs perfectly kept. Streets are scrubbed clean. No rubbish, no litter. Nothing that doesn’t belong here. I concentrate, look around, try to get my bearings. I can see something moving in the bushes. That must be the refugees.
We leave Mark behind in order to follow the movements in the shrubs. Our assumption is confirmed when we suddenly see a police car driving past and the bush instantly goes completely still. An indescribable experience.
When I reach the shrubs I see a boy of no more than 15 years old. He smiles at me and reaches for my hand. Abdullah is a semi-orphan from Pakistan. His mother is dead, his father has been missing for months. Abdullah is in the Camp with his uncle and two cousins. Today he wants to try his luck on a train to the UK. I decide to come with him. But we have to get past the patrols first.
At the last fence we hit an embankment which gives good cover in the dark with its many shrubs and trees. We lie down on the floor. So there we are, lying in the woodchip mulch they always put on flowerbeds. I enjoy the sea air and the presence of the other guys. Six of us in all. All equal. None of us up here worth more than the other. It would be so comfortable here. If it weren’t for the policemen.
Abdullah seems tense. He is lying right next to me, staring at one of the patrol vehicles driving up and down along the fence. With two fingers up in the direction of the vehicles I want to signal to him that they can’t harm us here because they can’t even see us. But he gets agitated and tells me that they have night vision equipment. Unbelievable. Abdullah is right. Quickly, the cars drive directly at us. We are busted and try to run to escape.
I am attempting to take photographs. I am not successful. The officers probably prefer it that way. I push one of the boys into the shrubs along the way. At least he is safe. I take Abdullah by the hand and pull him along to a small hill which has a lot of cover in the dark. I throw myself on top of the boy to protect him from the police. They can’t do anything to me; I am a ‘German citizen’. Abdullah, however, would probably have to spend a few days locked up in a cell if they catch him in this Zone. Perhaps they would even beat him up. I feel so sorry for everything that’s just happened here. I have to calm the boy down a little. Whilst I talk calmly to Abdullah I realise his heart is pounding with fear. I feel tears welling up in me.
How can we consent to a human being feeling afraid to die, simply because he wants to be free? This boy is just a child. God only knows what horrendous experiences life has already thrown at him in his short past.
I tell Abdullah that I will give myself up to the police. That’s how I intend to distract the police so that he can escape behind our hiding place without being found. When the next patrol appears, I come out from hiding and approach the police car with raised hands. I do that in as theatrical a way as possible in order to gain time for Abdullah. I allow myself to be arrested and interrogated. An officer tries to push me against the police car.
With that, his hand hits against my camera which I was hiding under my jacket. They were supposed to think that I was an refugee. Suddenly they stop pushing me around and talk harshly.
I show them my passport and explain that I am searching for a friend. We were walking along and got separated when we ran away. The border patrol orders me to leave this Zone. They don’t want to tell me the rules in a prison cell, is what say to me.
I pretend to be walking away from there along the road. But I can’t go. Over there, right behind the police vehicle in the underwood, kneels an underage boy from Pakistan about to soil his pants out of fear. I have to at least check if he made it out. But if I go there again they will arrest me. Never mind. I’d rather it’d be me than a malnourished 15-year old boy, I am thinking and I jump into the shrubs below so that I can get back to Abdullah as inconspicuously as possible.
I let my thoughts drift and do my shoelaces up again tightly.
Shit’s about to hit the fan.
Back at the place where I left Abdullah I am unable to find him. Instead I find three new refugees, two Syrians and one Afghan. I offer my help. But they politely decline. They are about to risk everything. Even their lives. Because if you don’t land on top of the train there is a danger of falling badly, or getting electrocuted.
Suddenly the police car is there again right next to our shrub. Their torch beams are lighting up everywhere. A second vehicle arrives. Now everything is lost. Hopefully, Abdullah has made it. I give a sign to the other three. I want them to wait ‘til I’m at the top of the hill. I run screaming across the adjacent car park to try and attract attention to myself which works quite well.
One of the vehicles stays behind by the shrubs. But the other car knows the terrain well and circumnavigates the scene. I have about 400 metres ‘til they catch up with me. And I am even more aware that they will give me a good beating when they do. Nevertheless, I will try to hold them up as long as I can stand upright. So I kneel behind a bush until I am discovered.
For half a minute, thoughts race around in my head. Why do the refugees do this to themselves? It is life threatening. Why am I doing this to myself? What’s going to happen next? What happens in the brain of a border control officer who finds out that the human he is chasing is a 15-year old orphan? I am not afraid. But I have no solution to offer either. So I let my thoughts drift and do my shoelaces up again tightly. Shit’s about to hit the fan.
A dark VW estate drives along the shrubs, closely observing. Shit, another car. In Germany this would probably be the sniffer dog vehicle. They got me now. When the car gets really close I recognise the German number plate from Munich on the dark VW. Germans! They are most likely journalists. And they probably have their press cards and cameras on them. I shout after the car: “Germany, Germany! Please stop! They are about to do us in.” The car drives on.
Now I’m dead meat. I’m standing in the middle of the road and the police has probably seen everything. So it’s down to running away again. But the VW stops after a few metres and reverses. It stops next to me and a window is wound down. A bald-headed driver with a Hamburg accent asks: “Diggi, wassap?” I would love to explain to him but I just want to get out of here.
The guys from Hamburg drive me back to my Hostel. The drivers name is Sebastian. He is German with Polish migration background. Just like his companion, Jarek. Who turns out to be a director making a film about the Camp. The cameraman is Leo and from Düsseldorf. All three of them look at me a bit disconcertedly. They were probably expecting this encounter even less than I was. Because the adrenalin is clouding my thoughts, for the moment I can’t say anything. Apart from that, the tears have flooded up to my nose by now. I don’t want to come across like a cry-baby.
That just then was never a coincidence. It was twenty seconds max ‘til I would have got caught and been taught manners in a police cell. I must have done something right today.
When you’re alone and you’ve upset the police, you are absolutely going to get beat up. That doesn’t just go for the refugees.
It’s the same everywhere on the planet.
Having arrived outside my Hostel, I agree with those guys to work with them from now on. – I have lost track of Jasper and Volkan anyway by now. Jarek and Leo had already been here in Calais a few weeks previous and know quite a few people here. I speak Arabic and can therefore do interviews for them. It fits. Tomorrow at 11am they’re going to pick me up. Then there’s four of us. I am looking forward to this.
Sebastian, the driver, hasn’t only saved me. He has also touched me deeply. As he is neither a journalist nor involved with any of this in any other way. He is here, just like Jasper, to do good.
When I fall asleep, I reminisce. I have barely been here 24 hours. And already so many special people have crossed my path. I am sad and happy at the same time. But most of all, I am incredibly grateful.
Photos: Hammed Khamis | Translation by Ulrike Muller