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October 12, 2020

We Will Never Forget Calais

A few years ago, I used to go regularly to the infamous Calais refugee camp.

My times there changed the fabric of my being.

There are things I cannot unknow now.

Here is what I will never forget from my time there.



I will never forget
The miles and miles of high barbed fences
Designed to keep humans out
Of hope.
Paid for by us

I will never forget
The people that the world had tried to forget
That the world would prefer dead
Branded illegal

I will never forget
The endless struggle and destruction
People would be fed and comforted
To be robbed
Brutalised by the police

I will never forget
The hope
In the face of hopelessness
A wasteland of bureacuracy
Lives lost and ruined
For a lack of papers

I will never forget
The lies
‘Nobody’s died’ The papers read,
The BBC said.
People died
Every day.

I will never forget
Running out of food
That first day in the kitchen
Looking hungry, frozen people, children, in the eye
And saying
‘Sorry, we’re out of food.’

I will never forget
Drawing with a child
And looking into his eyes
And knowing
I didn’t want to hear his story
I’d heard too much that day
And so we drew in silence

I will never forget
The fifteen year old’s
Broken and snapped
By uniformed men
Who did as they were told
Or as they liked

I will never forget
The ingenuity
The pop up businesses
And restaurants
Hot curries served with fiercesome pride
Moments of laughter
Interspersed with silence ensuing
As uniformed men marched by

I will never forget
The laughter of the policeman
As he trampled over small gifts for sale
A man’s livelihood
As he pleaded
Trying to save his stock
With one hand
His other shielding his eye
From pepper spray
While the policeman stood over him

I will never forget
The cold water taps
That used to freeze
And never being warm
And knowing I was lucky
Because I had a choice

I will never forget
Going back
Because nobody else seemed to care
Or wanted to know

I will never forget
Because I couldn’t bear to go
Because I had a choice
Because the random lottery of life meant
That I had a choice

I will never forget
The church
The sacred silence of a plaster board building
Built for prayer

And I will never forget
The day the authorities tore it down
The day they tore down
That place of peace
That last pillar of refuge
Something was torn out of us all that day

I will never forget
What we did
We kept people alive
That winter
We restored faith for some
We gave hope
We lost so many too

I will never forget
The knowing
That feeding starving people
Donating clothes and tents
Was illegal

I will never forget
That there are still things we don’t speak of
Because protecting
Got too messy
Too confusing

I will never forget
That day
Near the beginning
When musicians played
And everyone joined
And we believed that we were creating a joyful history
Of unity
And lives saved
And humanity restored

I will never forget
The sadness
In the engineer’s eyes
The acceptance of a bright and young man’s
Desolate fate

I will never forget
The biscuits offered
The meals shared
The teas poured
From the people who’d lost everything
Except their grace to give

I will never forget
‘The Missing’
Was looking for someone

I will never forget
The best of humanity
And the worst of humanity
Showcased together in a campsite

I will never forget
My friend
Green eyes
Sharing poetry and pictures of a brighter time
The sweetness of his soul
Sharing songs together

I will never forget
Seeing him again
This time different
His heart-breaking
His mind unravelling

I will never forget
Drawing with a child
And looking into his eyes
Not wanting to hear his story
Because I’d heard too much that day

I will never forget
That a man was arrested
For trying to save a child’s life
And that we had to sneak food past armed police
To hungry people
And a pregnant woman
And we had to hide in the woods
To smuggle food to them
Because they were ‘illegal’

I will never forget
The cold
The way it snuck into your bones
And how there were never enough tents
And that the water froze in the taps
And that running water
Those frozen taps
Were the only thing the government provided
The legal bare minimum

I will never forget
The man who broke his leg
Jumping from a bridge
When he tried to cross the channel
Who was waiting for it to heal
So he could jump again
And he’d laugh
Because he still had faith
That life was good
And miracles happened

I will never forget
That bad luck
Doesn’t discriminate
Good, kind people
And hardened, scary people
Could all end up there
You could give and pray
Or rob and lie
Think positively or negatively
You could still end up there

I will never forget
The discussions
On which trauma
Which need
Earned a plaster board house
Versus a tent
Versus ‘sorry, keep looking.’

I will never forget
The hate
We received
Refugees and volunteers
Were hated
Because what we were doing was illegal
Their struggle to survive was illegal

I will never forget
Standing outside the Houses of Parliament
Pleading for the Dubs Amendment to remain
So that children
Could still be granted safe passage
And they repealled it.
And so many children went missing
Because the Members of Parliament
Made that choice

I will never forget
Litter picking
Tear gas cannisters
The police had thrown
At humans
At children

I will never forget
The relief
Of going back to a hostel
And closing my door
And knowing I was safe
And warm
Because in the lottery of life
My life was legal

I will never forget
That I tried to forget
Because what I’d seen
Made me question
All my beliefs
My spiritual safety nets
No longer existed
And this world felt too terrible
To want to be in

I will never forget
When we lost the battle
And Calais was closed
And people were run out of the homes they’d made
With nowhere to go
And we’d all lost
And it all seemed so futile
Maybe it was
Maybe it wasn’t
But where would they go?

I will never forget
The people who were lost
Cast out again
Illegal and inconvenient
Where would they go?

We will never forget Calais
And what we shared
And we will never forget those
Who were sent away
The day Calais was closed
And we cannot know where they went
Because there was nowhere to go

We will never forget
The lost people
Carelessness didn’t lose them
They were so carefully
And callously lost

But we remember
We remember that some of us tried to stand for peace
And humanity
And some did nothing

And we remember
That the people in charge
The system we were raised to trust
Took action
Took decisive and calculated action
And they have blood and untold trauma on their hands

And we remember.


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