We have all seen the headlines and we have all seen the harrowing pictures. Pictures of the makeshift camps and slum-like conditions in which thousands of people are being forced to live following the treacherous journey out of their war-torn countries in the hope of finding safety in the foreign and far-away Europe.
Lana Faidulla’s talk on her first hand experiences at the camps of Calais and Dunkirk, however, made me realise just how little I know about the intricacies of the day-to-day life in the world behind the barbed wire and blue tarpaulin.
Lana focused her talk on the lesser-known camp of Dunkirk, home to 2,500 refugees. Partly inspired by her own childhood experiences as a refugee in Calais back in 2000, Lana embarked on her first volunteering mission in October of 2015. The mud and the lack of organisation was what first struck Lana upon her arrival at the Dunkirk camp. The mud, in particular, would worsen considerably over the coming winter months. It is the constant wetness, the total lack of bins, cleaning facilities, shelter, food and sanitation that Lana emphasised repeatedly and showed in her photographs throughout the talk. These physical conditions have to be dealt with while simultaneously living in a constant state of waiting. Waiting for the next donation, for the next meal, and eventually, hopefully, for the notice that they may enter England. Needless to say, this waiting game is not easy on anybody’s psyche. Lana reported older children often being forced to fight over the bare essentials that arrive at the donations van rather than attend the temporary schools that have been set up. Meanwhile the younger ones are often too traumatised to join attempts made by volunteers to play games with them. In one particularly dark moment of the talk, a photo of a noose hanging from a tree in the Dunkirk camp was shown. One man in the camp had explained to her that it is a reminder to him that he could end the struggle everyday if he wants.
This dire situation will not go away on its own. In fact, it will only worsen. With the war in Syria not showing any signs of slowing down, more refugees will continue to come to Europe and desperation will continue to grow amongst the thousands of people that live in the camps. They are people who, just like us, simply want the chance of leading a normal life. Therefore, choosing to look away from the horrifying realities of life as a refugee on our own doorstep, is not an option.
One key message which really resonated is that hate breeds hate. Anti-refugee actions observed by Lana in France range from openly holding noses when walking past refugees to breaking into a caravan that a team of volunteers had prepared for a family of refugees to live in. These hateful acts create an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust between refugees and those in host countries. Naturally, they lead refugees to wonder whether it is even possible to integrate into a country where they are treated with such disgust.
The open-armed help of those who do welcome refugees is, therefore, truly indispensable in creating an amicable dialogue between those who arrive in Europe and those who live here. The refugee crisis is a global problem. However, as the talk reminded us, there are things that we can do as individuals and in groups to help alleviate the suffering that the crisis is continuing to cause. In a large community such as Durham University, there is a large scope and potential for action. Let’s make sure we mobilise this action. We can start by putting up donation boxes to which students can give either money or practical items such as personal hygiene kits, vitamin tablets and head lice lotion. The talk also assured us that volunteering is easy for those that want to. It is possible to visit the camps in France just for a weekend, like Lana regularly does, or there are plenty of ways to volunteer closer to Durham. There will be one project happening on the 19th and 20th March in Stockton where anyone who would like to get involved can come along to help pack a container full of donations which will be sent directly to an orphanage in Syria – it would be great to see as many Durham students there as possible!
For more information about this event and other opportunities where you can get involved please visit: