A couple of days back, I wrote about how many people sacrifice so much to get to the UK, thinking and dreaming of it as a Promised Land.
I spoke of the terrible conditions they face on their last stop, the port city of Calais. But that is just the last stop in a series. Here a few illustrations… they could be about any of hundreds in similar situations:
– One young man from Africa left his home town when violence broke out nearly a decade ago. He made his way by land from his country to the northern coast of Africa and crossed the Mediterranean by boat. Since then he has made his way through every country of Europe. He’s been to every country and lived in every country, averaging about three months per destination. He has had day jobs here and there, he’s had a few study opportunities almost materialise, but nothing has been fixed. Until a couple of years ago, he had no news of his family; he didn’t know if they were alive or not. He finally was able to get back in touch with them and learned that his most loved ones are indeed still alive, but that the fighting has not ended in their village. Even so, he is glad they are there and not living the vagrant life that he is.
– A gentleman only left home a few months ago, also due to violence. Back home he was a school teacher, but the school is now closed as it is not safe for the children to go to class. He too left his whole family behind. He went by land for a ways, then flew a little way, with a boat trip in the middle. Because he has never owned a passport, he could only make these journeys through bribes. Thousands upon thousands of dollars have been spent to get him to where he is, doubtless his own savings and those of his family. He’s so close, yet he may not be able to get any further. His English and French are both poor, because he never needed them before he began this journey. He’s learning slowly, and is able to count on the help of a few fellow-countryman who have been migrating for longer, have more connections, and speak better English. They’ve developed a community together and, in some limited ways, look out for each other.
– Another young man left his country to look for a better life about five years ago. He speaks very little French, but his English is quite good, and this is one of his main motivations for wanting to go to England. He hasn’t been able to communicate with the French, and has felt discriminated against. For years he lived in another French city, working on construction projects that might last up to two weeks. This wasn’t what he dreamed of, but it was a life. Because of the discrimination, though, and because he wants to try to improve himself and be able to send something home to his family, he is trying to go north.
– A family man originally from somewhere in Asia lived in England until recently. His family is still in England and he is trying to get back to them. Years ago, he fled his country at war and he made it to the UK. For years he lived happily enough in the UK, with a small salary and a small family. Until one day he was told he had to leave. He obeyed but his family is still there and so he is trying to get back.
These are some of the types of stories of hope I encountered among the migrants. A desperate, anxious, even small, hope. But hope even so.