The scenes on our screens this week looked like a promo for the latest Hollywood apocalypse story. A picture of shapeless Humans, harried and hungry, their few possessions in arms or on heads leaving a smoky wasteland flecked with fires and rubble and human detritus. The debris of destroyed”homes” washed up here and there, strewn rubbish and piles of rotting remains, broken things, useless remnants of everyday life. Uniformed Enforcers – in steely black, armed with shield and truncheon – on watchful guard, ready to shoo the stragglers. A procedural farewell to the dispossessed, on another unavoidable exodus.
But this wasn’t movie land. This was real; this was the demolition of “the Jungle”, the migrant camp on the outskirts of Calais by the French authorities. Politically contentious for more than a decade, the shantytown camp for migrants trying to cross the Channel to settle in Britain, is now non plus. Why now the lancing of this ugly boil on the face of the French government? Not for migrants sake, for presidential sake – and the election of him (or her) in six months time.
Dispersing the 7000 Jungle inhabitants may remove a troubling eyesore for now (and it has to be right not to create silos of migrants – forever looking on, never part of) but this is far from solving the urgent issue of migration from North Africa and Middle East. (For until someone, or some organization, with the vision, strategy and finance steps up, Western Governments will likely keep on spreading the problem…) And this really doesn’t feel like a remedy that will facilitate the movement of troubled peoples, in our near future.
Can (will) Politicians ever take their eyes of the costs and numbers to look at migrants as human beings? And the focus of the UK press has shifted to “legitimate” need and age (and no doubt looks) but this too, is leading us away from helpfulness. Whatever their reason, whatever their background – them’s are people . They are homeless, jobless, friendless – dispersing them to live in containers around Europe is not likely to bring harmony and goodwill – more likely we are harboring division, bitterness, hatred… that could really hurt the next generation.
Increasingly some of the glitterati have been stepping into the muddy shoes of charity workers – to offer hope with poems and music and readings. But it’s only the very brave who do so – the backlash, like that just experienced by Lily Allen, can be vicious.
But you know, swept away by those “Jungle” dismantling machines were a theatre, a library and an art gallery. Spaces built out of flotsam and jetsam for cultural and artistic contemplation. These stood as a testament to the human ingenuity of these migrants, a displaced people who grew a small collection of tents to a mini-city home.
We must be mindful now, we don’t really de-humanise them.
This week – go see the theatre production of A Man of Good Hope at the Young Vic, produced by award-winning South African theatre company Isango Ensemble based on Jonny Steinburg’s true boy’s story. From the cosmopolitan streets of inner-city Nairobi to towns deep in the Ethiopian desert; this is a modern account of crime, human trafficking, migration, poverty and xenophobia .
Human Cargo – Caroline Whitehead. The world’s state of chronic insecurity is driving some 42,500 people to leave their homes every day in search of safety (a total of 59 million). If they were a nation, the population of displaced and dispossessed people would be the 24th largest country in the world. It would be a young nation as more than half of all refugees today are under the age of 18. It’s not just scale of this crisis that’s the problem, but the speed at which it is growing. How can society cope with the diaspora of the twenty-first century?
The Camp of the Saints – Jean Raspail (1973). A hypothetical novel of the destruction of Western civilization caused by Third World mass immigration to France. It sparked controversial reactions ranging from prophetic to discriminatory. Almost forty years after publication the book which influenced Ronald Reagan and François Mitterrand returned to the bestseller list in 2011.
Bloody Foreigners, Robert Winder (2013) We’ve likely moved somewhere, at sometime. Tracing the history of immigration to Britain.
The Jungle Upton Sinclair (1906) Depictions of working class poverty, lack of social support, the harsh and unpleasant living and working conditions, and hopelessness among the East European migrant workers. It served as a warning for immigrants with their hearts set on America.
Eastern Boys – Robin Campillo’s drama about a businessman and an eastern European hustler is part love story, part neo-Dickensian immigrant thriller.
Voice of Art – Immigration is beautiful. YOuTube series by artist/activist Favianna Rodgriguez – a leading voice in the movement of artists raising awareness about U.S. immigration issues.
Other films about the immigrant experience – a list from Indiewire
Is Migration a Basic Human Right? Freakonmics podcast (with Madeleine Albright – Czech immigrant)