Suddenly, the people were not humans anymore!

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Scouts and Guides contributing to refugee support activities in their local communities in Europe (41): a very personal story from a Belgian Scout who sept a weekend with his friends at the Grande-Synthe Refugee Camp near Dunkirk (FR)

Together with a group of twelve other Scouts from FOS Open Scouting (one of the National Scout Associations in Belgium and member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement) Annemie, Klaas and Luc had decided to spend a weekend in northern France and to help out at the Grande-Synthe Refugee Camp outside Dunkirk (FR). Here is the very personal story from Klaas of this memorable weekend.

This weekend, I witnessed things I would not even want my worst enemy to have to experience. 3000 people “living” in tents on a terrain, which is way to small and covered in mud and dirt. There are only a handful of toilets (where you cannot even distinguish between dirt and shit) and only limited, randomly improvised utilities.

But still, there was one common language: the language of hope; of hope to forget all miseries back home; of hope to overcome the nightmares of thousands of miles on the refugee track; of hope to eventually find a place for a better life.

At the Grande-Synthe Refugee Camp there are many volunteer helpers coming from all over Europe to offer support and a little comfort. I met people from Great Britain, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and other countries. They are all there for one thing, and one thing only: to improve the quality of life for the thousands of refugees and migrants who have to call this camp their “home”.

With my friends, I had to improvise with whatever resources we found there: cutting down bushes, underwood and trees to even the paths; making makeshift-tents out of sticks and rags; constructing bridges across fields of mud out of wooden shelves.

There is a lot of useful building material available, but necessary working tools are not allowed inside the Camp: knives, hammers and saws, for example, are considered weapons and strictly forbidden. Like other helpers, we had to smuggle everything in. The police are circling around the Camp every so often to ensure that the strict rules are followed. They also check who enters and leaves the Camp: there was a group of policemen standing at the entrance, wearing face masks as if they could get infected by refugees.

Suddenly, the people in the Refugee Camp were not humans anymore. They were pigs. Living in their own dirt.

But for what? Because they had fled unbearable conditions in their native countries? Because they had decided to leave behind their bombed houses, schools and offices, their mined fields, their killed beasts and the ruins of local economy? Is it so wrong to wish for a better life? Is it so wrong to wanting to escape for something better elsewhere, where it is possible to feel safe and be happy again?

Imagine: it is not allowed to bring euro-palettes into the Camp, which would otherwise be very useful to keep the tents off the muddy ground. The Camp would become “too comfortable”, they say. Honestly, I have no words to describe what I saw at this Refugee Camp. But still: there is this one common language: the language of hope!

As a Scout I felt it was my duty to help out wherever possible. I will return soon. And you can join me: it is an incredible eye-opening experience. Yes: it is tough. Yes: you return home a heartbroken person. But: there is this motivating feeling of satisfaction; of witnessing the impact of one’s actions; of seeing the odd smile and hearing laughter here and there amidst all misery. And the more we are, the greater the impact will be. All small things have an impact. All small things help create a better world. In Dunkirk. In France. In Europe.

Text: Klaas de Jaegher, FOS Open Scouting 2016
Image: Nima Yaghmaei, photographer, 2016 (more images on Nima’s Facebook page)

Further reading:
Recent newspaper articles published by the Guardian (United Kingdom) and Le Monde (France)