“The worst and best of humanity”: these were the words used by a friend to describe the Calais ‘Jungle’ pre-demolitions, but I think they can be applied to the Filippiada refugee camp where I’ve been working for the last few weeks as much as much to my time in France.
Refugee camps are bleak places. Life for so many has been put on pause. Despite the efforts of many, resources are always sparse, living conditions are far from acceptable. Constantly, I am angered and saddened by humanity here. I am angered and saddened by the devastation of war, of dictatorship, of famine, of political persecution – by all the circumstances from which people are forced to flee from their homes. I am angered and saddened by the bureaucracy and inefficiency of the asylum process, by the poor reception with which so many refugees are greeted in Europe, by Western culpability in this displacement in the first place. I am angered and saddened by many things, but my anger and my sadness is only my own; I cannot even begin to imagine the thoughts and memories and pains and frustrations of those living in camp.
But I am also surprised by the goodness of humanity here. I am moved by the resilience of camp residents despite their past and present. Every day, we are greeted by the smiles and warm words and generosity of those we interact with on camp. By the jokes and conversations and Arabic learning and Farsi learning and English learning and dancing and chatting in the female friendly space and the paintings and the questions and the laughter of the children, echoing constantly around the warehouse. Every evening, we leave with the smell of spices sizzling away on camp fires. ‘See you tomorrow!’s and ‘good night!’s and waves follow us out. Life goes on, even in a refugee camp.
And through the work of Refugee Support, its wonderful donors, and my wonderful co-workers, I am reminded that despite immense suffering in the world and the constant insufficiencies in humanitarian work, the strength of those who care continues to outweigh everything else. The work and energy of those volunteering in Filippiada, both before and during my time here, is testament to this. Never before have I seen such a beautiful warehouse!! Truly, you really forget you’re in a big, cold, concrete building when you step inside the children’s boutique. And the women’s for that matter. And the men’s. And the shoe shop AND the toy shop (it just doesn’t end!!). And the commitment across the entire board to providing a system of aid distribution that is both dignified and fair is, for me, one of the main facets of Refugee Support that I am honoured to be part of.
I didn’t volunteer with Refugee Support to provide myself with an experience, but it has been (and I’m sure will continue to be) an experience nonetheless. One that I encourage others, if they can, to also participate in. Not just because I think it’s important for people to know what’s going on (although I do), not just because it will be rewarding (because it will), but because I think the vision of Refugee Support and their enactment of that vision is vital to providing refugees with essential aid, and it cannot be done without the humanity and help of others.