Dissapointing UNHCR visit leaves hunger strikers resolved to take this further

We have lots of problems. We are not only the nine. We worry about the others- about all the jungle.

Update of 9th March: discussion of day’s events by hunger strikers with one Farsi/ English translator transcribed by a british friend and approved for publication on http://www.calaishungerstrike2016blog.wordpress.com

This afternoon Veronique Njo from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), Jean-Francois Roger from FTDA (France Terre D’Asile)  and Fanny Bertrand from the Conseil Départemental Pas de Calais met with the 9 hunger strikers, four of whom have had their lips sewn together since Wednesday 2nd March,  and a small number of the many other refugees who support them in this action. Some european friends and volunteers who have been supporting them were also present. This was the UNHCR “enhanced presence” that has been present in Calais since 8 February.They did not bring their own translater, thus solely relying on a man who has been on hunger strike for several days to interpret for his friends, until another of the exhausted, overworked English/Farsi refugee volunteer translators arrived to support.

To meet with a representative of the UN was one of the hunger strikers’ demands, and the UNHCR is the UN body concerned with refugees. This meeting, however, was highly dissapointing. Here is the hunger strikers’ response-

“This meeting was not what we were expecting. They were supposed to be here to be solving some crucial problems but all they were discussing with us was the options we already knew were available – the choice available to us as individuals to go to the CAP (container camp) or the CAO (advice and respite centres across France). We already knew these possibilities.”

From the start Veronique set out her unwillingness to discuss issues raised that are the problem of the British and French Governments. She relayed today’s news from the European Court of Human Rights that they can do nothing about the evacuation of everyone from the Southern part of the Jungle – as it has already started.

Veronique explained the limtations of her personal power and of the UN itself to intervene in this situation. She has been stationed here for one month now but hardly anyone in the jungle knows of this. There is also no online communication about the UNHCR presence, and no comment whatsoever on the evictions.

“She needed to have been talking to some of the people in the Jungle from each community not just the hunger strikers. We are wondering if she just comes because she is curious to see if we have really sewn our lips like all the journalists who have been knocking on our door everyday. She saw all nine of us with our lips sewn. But we are interested in people visitng us who want to work with us to change the situation here. Not people who want to persuade us to stop our action.”

When ased “what can you offer as a UN?” Veronique said “Are you in need of international protection? If so claim asylum here in France”. She assured us that we could remain all together if we went to a CAO and that we are unlikely to be deported if we apply for asylum in France. But we didn’t ask for help in applying for asylum here. We don’t have any good reason to stay here. We suffer violence from fascists and mistreatment from police.”

“The problem is the French state doesn’t repect its own laws. It says there will be no people forced to leave their houses during the eviction. They were supposed to be destroying houses without anyone inside. But there were many people in there who they forced to leave, even puttng fire into their houses so that they were destroyed and they could pretend they were keepng people safe by making them leave. They should have made options that are good enough that people actually choose them and provide enough information that people can trust these options before they started destroying houses.”

“The truth is that no one wants to stay in France. If they wanted that then they wouldn’t be here. They would already be in a centre. But here in the Jungle they have no good contact from the government – only they are beaten by the police. These people are coming from places where they have already been treated badly. They have come all this way with the hope that they enter a European country and find they are protected but they find there is not much difference between this country and theirs.”

The French government is just trying to solve this problem one way or another. They try everything. We have already heard too many lies from government about these CAOs and CAP.

One example is that of an old lady. She left all her grown up daughters back in Iran. Her husband has been in UK for 16 years but can’t do anything about her. But as long as she was desperate – she was sick as well – she had to go to the accomodation for a while just to get out of this situation, out of the cold. Nobody forced her to go there. She went there on her own free will because she had heard a lot about the accomodation and she thought it might be a good place at least for the winter. But now she regrets it. She was hopng to get some legal support and health care. But she is alone there in a room with no television in a centre where there are only men. She has no friends there who could help her to get any information. They promised her that if she goes to accomodation centre they will take care of her case to join her husband in UK as soon as possible. But they give her not any information. Nothing.

She now keeps calling me and she wants to get back here as fast as she can. The problem with her is that she doesn’t know how. She has talked with some people in Salaam but there is no bus to bring her back. They only have buses to get people away from here.

Today in this meeting this lady did not seem to understand that we do not do this for ourselves.”

“Another problem with this meeting today is that it was not officially recorded in any way. We do not trust what was said here to be passed on to those higher up in the UN.”

“Why do the UN think that one woman can solve the problems here? She has no translator and about everything she says the governments are to blame not her. So why is she here?”

The dissapointment in today’s visit has renewed the hunger strikers’ resolve to take this action further.

“We need to have a meeting with representatives from every community: Sudan, Syria, Eritraea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Kurdish people …

We want to do this tommorow. This cannot just be Iranians. We need to discuss about this with everyone.

Everyone is looking at us now. But some are sayng they are just some crazy Iranans that sew their mouths together. Many people are only concerned that we should cut the threads on our lips – they do not want to help us to try to change the situation here.

We should do somethng that every person in the Jungle can jon together. We want to get everyone here involved in this situation.

This is not easy here. The problem is everyone here is scared about ther own future – and how they can get across the border. Most people here have experienced injures when they have tried to cross a border. Everyone here suffers violence from police.

People around the world don’t know a single thing about the situation here. If they did then we would not have had to have sewn up our lips before they started to pay attenton to us. But now they must make some written promises. Tomorrow we start to focus on what these written promises should be.”

About the media

“Now everyone knows that there were Iranians who went on strike but in some places it was reported there were some syrians. It is very obvious that we are Iranian. We don’t need to make a big deal out of this but this is a problem with the media – they can lie and they can repeat inaccurate information. Some journalists are trusted but some are not. We will give some accurate information here but also it is not so important what our jobs were in Iran or how old we are – you do not need to know this to support our attempt to change our situation. .

To those concerned about the physical wellbeing of the hunger strikers

“Why did we have to sew our lips before you started to pay attention? If we stop now, will you ignore the situation again? Please, we are asking for your support to change the situation here. We do not sew our lips because we want you to look after us.”

flower in snow

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One thought on “Dissapointing UNHCR visit leaves hunger strikers resolved to take this further

  1. I am so sorry that our governments are treating you in this appalling way..in fact they use you as a distraction from the terrible things they are doing with their own people! They do not obey their own laws and I think we need to put together a volunteer legal team to represent the refugees…volunteers will keep trying to support them because WE ARE ALL PEOPLE!!! But if anyone has legal expertise and time they can spare PLEASE contact the aid teams and offer to form a legal defense team…I don’t think anything else will stop this abuse!!!

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