A letter of hope from jazz singer Ian Shaw
There are over 200 unaccompanied kids from Civil War zones, with family in the UK, stranded on a toxic wasteland, 23 miles from our coast.
As many of you know, I have been working for a year now as a volunteer at the unofficial refugee camp – known as jungle – in Calais, France. Europe.
I began by taking a mountain of food, clothes and musical instruments, kindly donated by friends and fans. The response was overwhelming. My jazz and comedy community came forward. Julian Clary donated and made dinner for singer Polly Gibbons and I on the eve of our first trip. Actors, broadcasters, producers, neighbours, family, bar managers, shopkeepers, football agents. My funny old world sat up and listened. My funny old world acted. The fundraising gigs began. More and more of my community started coming out to help. To the jungle – a lawless, yet often stimulating microcosm of all our funny old worlds.
This is not my story. I was just a tiny cog in a huge wheel that simply does not turn fast enough. I began to form firm friendships with vulnerable, dignified, hugely compromised people – and gradually, over many teas I heard only horrific stories. Stories of vile, seemingly never-ending journeys – one young mother of 23 finally having the courage to tell singer and volunteer Georgia Mancio and me that her sister and 2 year old daughter simply fell out the boat. As the winter kicked in, my determination to continue was undimmed. You cannot unsee stuff. I witnessed solvable problems being unsolved. Pointless and upsetting brutality from riot police. Refugees would call me at 3am, desperately needing my car to take yet another group of badly injured minors to A&E in Calais. This and the constant attacks on distressed young refugees from the far right groups around the camp.
And utter, sheer compassion. Actress Juliet Stevenson bought a bus for the kids, after the horror of a demolition so brutal and futile, it beggared belief that there was any humanity left. Actor Jude Law visited. The extraordinary Good Chance Theatre provided a sanctuary and stimulation for bored, dissolute damaged young people. There was hope and there was hopelessness. The domed theatre was dismantled before the local authorities could destroy it, with as much cold dispassion as they’d poured on the shocking razing of a tarpaulin mosque and a church.
As NGOs and unregistered small grass-root groups extended collective arms of protection around the camp, I kept bumping into one young woman. Sometimes in the lobby of our accommodation, but often in the mud and sludge of the camp. This was October. She is Laura Griffiths. I doubt I will ever meet a braver, more determined, brighter soul in my life. Her brief is to humanely compile and process, via Citizens UK and Safe Passage, a full list of the unaccompanied kids I mentioned at the top of this letter to you all. The only way she can do this is to gain the love and confidence of these distressed kids. She is in the camp most days, sensitively and with affection and much laughter, along with a small team of trusted co-workers from Safe Passage, collecting details which when processed will allow a judiciary (Dublin Three Agreement). I was invited by George at Citizens UK to speak at a memorial celebrating the life of a 15 year old whose existence in the jungle had got the better of him. He died trying to escape.
The following two days, Laura and her team won a case – Minor's Human Rights versus The Home Office. A process began legally allowing minor’s cases one by one, letting these vulnerable children be reunified, under the Dublin Three Agreement, in the UK – currently a European member state.
However, in recent months, we have seen a slowing down of this process. Labour MP Stella Creasy recently travelled to join Side By Side Refugees (I'm a trustee and media spokesperson for this UK charity) in the jungle. It was a good day. Amber Rudd, Home Secretary, has been invited. Is it not a huge, moral and fair duty, for Rudd to witness the truth of the crisis? – and not rely on third-hand, biased reports? Creasy is clear, pragmatic and compassionate – and met a lot of jungle residents. Side By Side and I made sure of this.
I'm happy to do the same for Amber Rudd.
Griffiths will continue her painstaking work. With no governmental support.
Please look at the attached initiative. The money raised is a drop in this unforgivably deep and wide ocean. But without funds, this work will be massively compromised. Please support her and Citizens UK/Safe Passage.
We cannot let this untenable cruelty define our next generation.
Thanks so much
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