Thinking of going to Calais? I’ve just got back and would like to share some thoughts with you.
It appears that a large wave of European citizens are in the process of taking ‘aid’ to Calais and other areas in Europe where migrants and refugees are camped or travelling.
People in the UK and across Europe who are distressed to see pictures of drowned children want to help. I am glad to see this response, but would like to add a few points to the debate, as I think that we are in danger of perpetuating the problem by framing the situation through the political lens of those who created it.
Why is it happening?
Firstly, we must remember that people are fleeing countries which our government has helped to destabilise and make uninhabitable. Britain’s ‘special relationship’ with the US, and the policies of other rich governments, have forced this population movement via climate disaster, global financial abuse and racist wars.
Regarding the debate about whether we should call people forced to flee ‘migrants’ or’ refugees’, and whether we are creating with that conversation a ‘good refugee/bad migrant’ binary which undermines the basic truth that all people should be free and have rights: Instead, let’s focus our language on the elites who force others to leave their homelands and families. Words such as white supremacist, capitalist, neoliberal and patriarchal are all on point.
Well-meaning Brits are going to Calais and running into the limitations of the charity model. Confused, upset donators are arriving in vans and attempting to give items they have collected to exhausted refugees and migrants, and sometimes chaos ensues during distribution. The true source of this chaos is the global power balance as described above, and much more the responsibility of any ‘white saviours’ come to offer benevolence than black and brown people in flight.
Truth is, anyone visiting is the guest of the people at the camp and has much more to learn that to give. Taking shoes, blankets, sleeping bags etc on solidarity missions is helpful but limited. What is important is that we also challenge the racism and imperialism that is fuelling this ongoing tragedy.
What should I do when I get there?
On the heated question of whether it is best to donate to charities working on the ground, drive your own supplies over or simply step back, I would like to offer this:
If you are going to Calais, take stuff, that’s fine, and contact local distribution centresin advance of your trip as they have more experience than you in distributing it on the ground and require notice. Then go to the camp if you want to, and offer your good wishes to those who have arrived there – these human conversations and sharing basic humanity and love with those who wish to connect are vital to building new friendships and can be vehicles of revolutionary change. But most importantly think deeply about how you can join the people in Calais or elsewhere in directly challenging the border. Nobody wants to be stuck – people want to travel to their destination.
How the people defying borders are showing Europeans what we must do:
The people who are moving into and across Europe from North Africa and the Middle East have no choice but to take a mass direct action to tear down the borders of Fortress Europe – to survive they have to get in. Their freedom is bound up with ours – we in Europe are subject to the same threats as they are, but as yet insulated by privileges not enjoyed by people from countries our countries have robbed and bombed. We must support their action for our own future survival, as much as for theirs. The successes of peoples’ movements to take power away from the global elite are the very same acts that will ensure the survival of the planet, of the human race. We either take this planet back from those who would corral and destroy it, or we lose it.
Any idea that we are ‘helping the migrants’ because they are deserving of our ‘charity’ or ‘pity’ is misguided: we must support their mass direct action of defying borders as they lead the global fight for survival – ours, theirs and that of the planet.
(Thanks to Mitch, Samir, Mark and Andy for support/input on this article.)