Voices from the Jungle gives an insight into the individual experience of those enduring life in the Calais refugee camp, says BETHANY RIELLY
Voices from the Jungle
by Calais Writers
(Pluto Press, £13)
“IS IT true that this place exists in Europe? Where is humanity, where is democracy?”
These questions, written by Sudanese refugee Africa — not his real name — were the first crushing thoughts of many who had travelled thousands of miles to Europe, only to find themselves stuck in the heaving, dirty and dangerous Calais refugee camp known as the “Jungle.”
Africa is among 22 refugees whose vivid accounts of their homes, journeys, dreams and experiences of life in the Calais camp feature in Voices of the Jungle.
The book was born out of a course started by the University of East London for refugees living in the now demolished “Jungle” located just 26 miles from the British coast.
Frustrated with the derogatory way they were being portrayed in the media, the authors insisted on having their voices heard by a wider audience. “A migrant is not only a word,” writes Babak from Iran, “not only news, not only a problem for society: a human is living behind this word.”
Babak’s account invites you to imagine standing in front of row upon row of fences topped with barbed wire, knowing that they were erected specifically because of you — to keep you out.
It’s difficult to read at times as many of the authors have been subjected to unthinkable brutality at the hands of smugglers, police and even members of the public. One author writes about being left to die in a lorry by his smuggler “agent,” while another explains vividly about having dogs set on him by the Bulgarian police.
Yet, remarkably, many also write about positive experiences they took from their journeys and paint a very different picture of the demonised “Jungle” camp than the one portrayed in the right-wing press.
Some found a sense of community and camaraderie, built friendships that crossed national and religious boundaries and took up courses. Muhammed, a doctor from Syria, likens the “Jungle” to a school, saying he deserves a graduation certificate for his time spent there.
Voices of the Jungle gives those who have been ignored, dehumanised and abused because of who they are the platform they deserve to explain the reality of life as a refugee.
Although the collection only scratches the surface of the mental and physical pain refugees have endured, spreading these voices is a powerful way to foster some understanding of their plight — and put a person back into the word refugee.