6,000 migrants live in the bitter cold limbo of the Calais ‘Jungle.’ Volunteering there this weekend at a clinic run by The Hummingbird Project, I was shocked by the inhumane conditions in which these people live so close to home.
UNHCR Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan seems luxurious in comparison to the slum-like conditions of the Jungle, which do not meet any UN standards. Basic facilities such as running water were only provided a few weeks ago. Flimsy tents and makeshift shelters are inadequate protection from the icy wind. Rubbish festers all around.
Each person I met there had a remarkable story of resilience.
One fifteen-year-old Syrian boy named Abdul, on the verge of tears and trembling with trauma, told me in Arabic how his whole family were killed by the never-ending bombing in Syria. He fled to Turkey and travelled by foot, sleeping on the streets, to Greece, and then to Germany, finally arriving in Calais alone five days ago.
British bombing in Syria will inevitably kill and displace more civilians. The refugee crisis is escalating and yet we remain deaf to the suffering of those on our borders. The Calais ‘Jungle’ has increased in size exponentially during recent months.
A seventeen-year-old Syrian girl named Janette explains that every night she risks her life to try to get over the wire or into the trucks in order to cross the border to Great Britain. Smiling, she says that her life is like ‘an action film.’
However, it is dangerous; people smugglers are an emanating threat.
The Jungle is also a dangerous, lawless place; mafia and gang activities are rife. There is a grim, dog-eat-dog determination to survive. Trapped and desperate people do desperate things.
What is needed is for a sense human dignity to somehow be restored.
I hope to help organise an art project with vulnerable women in the Jungle next year, in collaboration with The Hummingbird Project.
In Jordan last year, I organised art projects with Syrian refugees for the UNHCR, transforming refugee tents – a symbol of displacement – into beautiful pieces of artwork, to raise awareness for the plight of refugees.
Art has been proven to be cathartic and helpful in counteracting psycho-social problems that refugees may experience due to trauma.
It is my aspiration to use art to unite refugee communities, separated and traumatised by the horrors of war. To be able to bring hope and beauty into their lives, which have been overshadowed by suffering and to show them they have not been forgotten and abandoned by the rest of the world.
Hannah Rose Thomas is a 24 year-old British artist currently studying at the Heatherley’s School of Fine Art in London. As well as working as Creative Director for the UNHCR in Jordan, Hannah has been receiving commissions to paint since she was 18 years old. She is a true inspiration to all, using her talent and her passion to change the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.