This month the French government is forcibly demolishing the Calais refugee camp known as “the Jungle” – where over 3,500 migrants live in a former landfill site while trying to gain entry into Britain by stowing away on trucks and trains.
While tearing down a part of the camp on Feb. 29, 2016, police fired teargas at up to 150 residents, as captured in this video by volunteer Rowan Farrel. Protesters threw rocks, and several homes were burned. French media reported 40 vans of riot police positioned near the site. The Guardian has a slideshow of pictures available here.
I realize I am a complete book nerd who relates just about everything in life to something I’ve read, but today’s situation in Calais immediately brings to mind The Children of Men (1992) by P.D. James.
In the novel (as well as the 2006 Alfonso Cuarón movie Children of Men) Britain is one of the last functioning governments, and is overrun with illegal immigrants and asylum seekers who are trying to escape the chaos in the rest of the world as humanity has lost the ability to reproduce.
Addressing the value of human life, the abuse of immigrants for cheap labor, and discrimination, the book’s message about societal complicity is dark, twisted, and painfully relevant when addressing the refugees in Europe today. One of the points P.D. James makes is that willful ignorance is not an excuse for inaction – by choosing to ignore what is happening around us we enable the atrocities being committed.
“The system has the merit of simplicity and gives the illusion of democracy to people who no longer have the energy to care how or by whom they are governed as long as they get what the Warden has promised: freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom.” (The Children of Men, Ch. 11)
Ring any bells?
In a globalized world, we are drawn every day closer to the consequences of our actions and attitudes. We cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot let ourselves be governed by fear. Our shared future demands better of us.
Thank you to all the volunteers working in Calais, and all those helping with other refugee and crisis situations around the world, in ways both big and small. Your dedication is an inspiration.