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Diary of a not-so-baby BarriSTAR

An alternative perspective

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refugeecrisis

Calais: crisis of of our times?

There are many ‘Jungles’ and there will be many more, where the protection of fundamental rights is somehow suspended within a vacuum. These states of exception must not be legitimised through acquiescence. The role of the law ought not be suppressed in times of crises, but must emerge as a weapon for the weak and an instrument for good. Our role as lawyers must be to facilitate this. 

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There are oppressed and persecuted people everywhere. And we have usually had something to do with it. Humanity has no colour. #Calais #thejungle #migrantcrisis #refugeecrisis #openborders #humanrights #refugeeswelcome #humanityhasnoborders #ethiopia #iraq #sudan #syria #eritrea #ghana #afghanistan #iran #egypt #kurdish

Hossam.

I was so moved by this 12 year old boy when I met him at ‘the jungle’ refugee camp in Calais. By his fight, his fearlessness, courage, bravery, strength of belief and smile. Still so moved by him, as a symbol of strength, hope and resilience, that I looked into the meaning of his name.

One of the interpretations: “the sword of justice.”

I wonder if his mother, father knew everything he would grow to be when they named him as a baby.

Hossam not only led this demonstration, as a man, a true leader a fighter, but represents everything about struggle. And people that are subject to grave struggle.

I once gave a talk, which was supposed to be a part of some training. I asked everyone to discuss what inspired them. And at the end, it was my turn. My talk was on ‘strength despite adversity.’ I used two contrasting stories when I gave that talk, I didn’t realise when I was thinking about delivering it, it would cause my voice to break.

If I gave the talk again, it would include Hossam.

12 years old. From Egypt. Arrived to the jungle- alone. I don’t know where his family are. He has made friends with many in the camp, people who revere him, and who he calls brother. I have since read about him, and he lives in his tent alone and is considered ‘house proud’ despite the conditions.

During the demonstration, he was powerful. His power was in his ability to stir deep emotion within people. Within me. Disbelief, guilt, fear, love, hope. And he has no idea.

Although he was carried on the shoulders of different men throughout the demonstration because he was little, and only looked about 9/10- he stood alone.

Above and beyond everyone.
Advocating their common cause.
His chants resonated across the thousands.

No jungle, no jungle.
Freedom.
Hariya (Freedom in Arabic).
Azadi (Freedom in many languages including Pashto, Kurdish and Urdu).

The fact he adopted different languages, to say the same thing highlights that the cause is one.

They are one.

Humanity is one.

From The Jungle no.2: Freedom of Movement

Freedom of movement is a fundamental freedom enshrined in the EU’s founding treaties. At the risk of sounding too much like a lawyer, the rationale behind the principle is that EU citizens can move freely between member states with the view of fostering cooperation, productivity and unity across the Union- mainly for economic purposes.

The kind of freedom of movement these people are seeking is not the EU-sharing workforces-growing economy-single market kind.

But the human rights kind.

And the literal-being-able-to-physically-move kind.

Freedom of movement is a human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and various other constitutions and treaties. It encapsulates the right of individuals to ‘leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Yet thousands of refugees are trapped within Europe, at borders, at sea, forced into camps, dying, being tear gassed and attacked.

Not being able to move on. Not being able to go back.

Falsely imprisoned.

Three words spray painted across plastic on a incomplete makeshift shelter, white letters dripping. In another light, the words look red, almost like blood.

These people don’t want clothes, shoes or even food.

They want the freedom to be free.

From The Jungle no.1: The Map

“The Jungle” is a refugee camp on our doorstep. In Calais, a matter of an hour and a bit away from us exists what should be the deepest source of shame for us, our government, the French, our European neighbours and the rest of the international community.

The problem is embodied in the semantics. The labelling. The choice of words.

The Jungle?

I am not sure where the name for the camp came from. But it is where the process of dehumanisation begins.

In labelling this area the “Jungle” we are saying a number of things.

The inhabitants are not human.
They are animals.
There is no order.
No system.
No rules.
No rights.
And no corresponding responsibility.

The label only seeks to legitimise the deep injustice. It is ok to call a structure made with bin liners and sticks home, it is ok to have to queue hours for one meal and not be sure you’ll get one because there’s not enough to go around, it’s ok to have nothing on your feet despite the mud and the floods of water, it’s ok to have no sanitation, no properly running water, no electricity and everything else that comes with living in a ‘jungle.’

It is ok, because you are not human.

The camp might be ‘The Jungle’ to us.

But it is not for those who call it their home.

The refugees. People. Humans.

In the words of one of them, “it is not a jungle, it is a village because we work hard.”

Despite our dehumanisation of them, they continue to represent the true meaning of humanity.

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In sharing this post and others that will follow, I hope to help in highlighting some of the harsh realities of the refugee crisis, challenge stereotypes, encourage dialogue but most importantly hope that people will find it within themselves to not only read, and maybe share- but to act.

I am working with friends and colleagues in pooling our skills and experience to establish how we as a collective community can best try and contribute to this ongoing crisis. If you are interested, please get in touch.

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