Meeting the migrants

Today leaving Stuttgart and driving towards Austria. No idea where I will stay tonight but will start looking around 4 to 5pm.

As I have always said there is no easy answer to the immigration crisis but whatever happens we should never forget they are fellow human beings. There are always two sides to most arguments, you are entitled to your opinion and me mine, we might just agree to differ. Migration has happened since time memorial but as its numbers have grown the fences have got higher and longer. Whilst it’s certainly reduced the flow it hasn’t stopped it and never will. Desperate people will frequently risk everything to find a safe environment.

I have no idea whether the figures above are correct but they can be used by both sides to either reassure or frighten people dependent on your view.

If we think the crisis is over we would be very mistaken there are still thousands of people trying to get into the UK as well as other European countries. They flee because of war, terror, persecution or torture and of course some a small minority will be abusing the system. The journey is not for the faint hearted and when I saw the conditions they live in today I wondered how any child or female could ever undertake it. Today I didn’t see any children or females only young men. although at its peak in the jungle 62% were young men according to Wikipedia.

I came across the first group at a lorry refuelling station on Saturday morning and drove there in my car to see for myself what life was like for them. It was located at the end of an industrial estate. A lorry driver was refuelling, and there were about ten lads all milling about around his big lorry whilst he was filling up. He didn’t seem unduly concerned although I saw about three lads on top of his load, very high up as he drove off and trying to find somewhere to hide. The responsibility rests with him and there are heavy penalties for carrying illegals over the border. I felt sympathy for him because he just came to work, not to have to police his lorry for illegal migrants. You cannot claim asylum until you are actually in the UK so many feel its their only option.

When I arrived I spoke to a group of about 4 but soon there was about 15 people around my car. They were very friendly and most wanted me to help get them to the UK or to complain about their living conditions. When I made it clear I couldn’t do any of that they were still fine with me. I got out the car and they told me they were from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, and Afghanistan. There was no one from Syria, its a lot easier to prove you are fleeing a war than to prove torture, suppression, or persecution by a government who will not help either side. That’s what makes cases complex and difficult. I asked them for a picture and most were happy to pose but tI asked them all turn around as I was told their pictures can be used against them in some circumstances by authorities even if its disputed that it’s actually them in the photo.

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I then carried on around the corner to where they are camped and sleep at night. There were about 6 tents for about 100 plus people. About 20 were playing football in the street. They told me many of them sleep in the open without blankets or bedding. They move to underneath bridges if it rains. I have no idea how they manage as I was frozen the first night I camped with my tent. The camp backs onto a forest area and they hide inside there when the Police arrive if they have time. The Police “disperse” them every 2 days, they arrive about 8.30 and seize all the tents, bedding blankets or even clothing that they can. If its on the floor it is taken. They can claim it back but the migrants are too scared to go near Police and the charities believe this will encourage the Police to seize even more if they co-operate so no one does. It is probable that the Police treat it as lost property.

I have no doubt it’s a moral dilemma for some officers. They will either see the humanitarian cost to the migrants or alternatively see themselves as a protector of the local people who have to suffer these people. By seizing property it is also a deterrent to others to come into the area and to continue to live in poor conditions without water or sanitary facilities. When it was cleared in 2016 the jungle had between 3500 and 5500 people depending on who you believe.

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I do not know the solution to the problem but its obvious people are still looking for safety and a new beginning despite the new hardships.

I knew it would be a hard ask but I asked them if they had found any kindness on route or at the camps. I did record them with their consent but the quality is poor. Some wanted to be videod but I didn’t want to cause them any issues in the future. One lad said he had met kindness but just to think about it made him want to cry and he couldn’t talk about it. A few said the volunteers were very kind to them and they appreciated all they do. One guy said the Police could be kind too, some had given them chocolate or let them retrieve belongings rather than seizing it, one even said a Policeman gave him money for medicine when he was really ill.

In all they were a nice group of people and a no stage did they threaten me and I felt very comfortable speaking with them. Towards the end after about 30 minutes one angry young man came over demanding to know what I was going to do for them. The others tried to calm him down but he wasn’t listening so I told them I would go. As I left many waved me goodbye. It’s difficult to imagine how they will survive a winter there especially as there are no washing facilities anywhere. I didnt find out what they actually do!

On a lighter note todays kindness message is from Alorea a lovely Italian volunteer who I spent a morning with, cleaning jerry cans out so they could be used later for fresh water in the camps. A big thank you for her saying it n English its wasn’t easy for her.

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