From Afghanistan to Calais’ Jungle
Ahmedzahi (name changed) is a strapping 20 year old who used to work on the family farm in Logar Province but left home when just 17 to escape the violence he would never be able to avoid if he stayed in his village.
“A lot of war. Every village has Taliban. If you go to the police or the army, the Taliban kill you. If you are working with the Taliban, police kill you. If you’re a driver, the Taliban say come help me. If you do not help them, your brother, your sister, all dead.”
These aren’t just his fears. Some of his friends and family have been killed in the conflict between the different armed forces fighting there. Tragically, his father was also a victim, caught in the cross-fire between military and Taliban.
Ahmedzahi wanted to study and didn’t want to fight so, at the insistence of his mother, travelled to Europe under the impression that he could escape the violence and build a better life for him and his remaining family. He loves his country but the war has stifled development: he didn’t see any other option.
However, after 3 years as a refugee, it hasn’t worked out: “Even with fighting in Afghanistan, it is better than this life.”
It took him nearly 3 years to reach Calais. He spent 3 months in Iran and a year in Istanbul working with some friends, before deciding to travel to Western Europe. He was then imprisoned in appalling conditions in Bulgaria and Hungary and had to evade capture travelling through Serbia, Romania, Austria, Italy and France before arriving in Calais four months ago.
It was here that he started the frustrating process of claiming asylum in France but, because he was finger-printed in other European countries, was told it would take months to be decided and during that time could not be housed or supported financially: “You say welcome to the refugees then why do you make us live in the jungle, why do you close the border?”
Believing that the UK will provide him with somewhere to live and the chance to go to school, he did try to get into England when he first arrived in Calais, by boarding trucks queuing for the ferry port or waiting near the Eurotunnel railway to board moving trains. He knows this is dangerous and knows people who have died trying. Anyone who visits the camp or the local hospital will see many with broken bones and other trauma injuries. Unfortunately, he broke his foot on one of his first attempts. Because he was then told that his asylum application would be successful in April 2016, he decided he would try to build a life in France.
However, that doesn’t seem to have stopped him risking his life. Yesterday, he sent me this video of him and others on the track being pursued by security.
Living in the Jungle
Ahmedzahi says he needs to live in a house, to go to school, to have electricity for lighting and his phone, to use the internet to stay in contact with family, to have a nice jacket and trousers. But he lives in a tarpaulin covered tent with few possessions. He can get one hot meal a day if he queues for long enough. He can also get a shower as long as it is no more than 6 minutes long. There aren’t enough toilets.
The lack of these basic comforts is hard but he is visibly upset when he talks about the theft and violence between the different nationalities forced to live in the camp under these conditions. The night before we spoke, he had to chase off two men who he believed wanted to steal from his tent. A month ago there was a mass fight where 18 people were hospitalised. This big, brave lad looks scared: “There are thieves. There are good people and bad people. It is not a good life…and there is fighting every night.” [My understanding is arguments are frequent but violence between residents is rare].
Support from the aid volunteers can help but it is not enough and some of it reinforces their sense of exclusion: “Many people come to help but mostly it’s old things. Here they bring old jackets and socks. Two days ago a car brought cola then I saw it had all expired.” The distributions are also uneven; other areas of the camp get more donations than his and he never knows when essentials are going to be made available.
And he doesn’t see any support from Calais residents. “I can go to the beach but the Calais people don’t like refugees. People look at you like you’re animals.”
Although he’d like to, he can’t go back to Logar because if people there find out he will be killed.
Ideally, his asylum application would be successful and he would do what he could for his mother, brother and sisters to join him. His siblings would study to become doctors or engineers. He would like to complete military training in France and return to Afghanistan to serve as a military officer. As an officer he get a safe house for his family, a reasonable salary and the internet.
“I don’t want to fight, it would put my family in danger. But with training as an officer they would be safe. We want to defeat terrorism and the Taliban. With a strong military I can serve the country, and protect the border.”
For more information about the latest situation in Calais, links, and how you can get involved go to Calaidpedia.