In the days following the tragic terrorist attacks in the French capital, 129 innocent victims have been confirmed. However, as France mourns, another much larger group of people should be in our thoughts, too: Europe’s 750,000 refugees. Many have once again fallen victim to the brutality of extremism, having already experienced the barbarity of ISIS and other organisations and bravely fled, seeking safety in Europe.
Words: Isabella Ellis, Sub-Editor: Mariya Savova
Arriving at our shores, they have received a mixed response, quotas have been rejected and many borders have shut just as quickly as they opened. Thousands now reside in conditions condemned by human rights campaigners as unacceptable. After Paris, calls for the borders to be shut completely have intensified but it’s important we realise this is exactly what ISIS wants. They despise refugees, condemning them as traitors who have rejected their caliphate. But as long as Europe squabbles over what to do, ISIS’s rhetoric that the West is bad, is substantiated. The disunity it creates fulfils another of their twisted aims – to create hatred and division.
As Nicolas Henin, a former ISIS captive, wrote in The Guardian, this reaction against refugees is just what ISIS wants. ‘’They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia; they will be drawn to any examples of ugliness on social media.’’
As France, shocked and panicked, dropped bombs on the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa and French President Francois Hollande, too, called for border controls to be tightened, refugees living in the Jungle in Calais held a vigil to show solidarity with those killed in Friday’s attacks. Throughout Europe refugees face an uncertain and undesirable future and when ISIS struck Paris on 13 November, their prospects dramatically worsened; just as the terrorist group had intended.
The mood in the Jungle camp in Calais is deteriorating as quickly as the weather, cold nights are setting in, more children arrive everyday and frequent fires torch hard to come by shelters.
In a disused bunker on the outskirts of the Jungle, I met Obama, he had changed his name from Mohammed in a show of love for the US President. The tiny space with a Cornish flag painted on the wall and a five-star sign is home to six people. I wonder how Obama feels now that 24 governors in America have said they will not allow refugees to settle in their states, disregarding the fact that no refugee has been convicted of terrorism offences in the US since 9/11.
Houmam*, a Syrian refugee who I met on my last trip, tells me ‘’he is thinking of going back to Turkey’’ and that he ‘’has given up on Britain.’’ As I left after our first meeting, he had joyously promised we would meet again in London, but now he just looks exhausted and despairing. ‘’The Jungle is no life, it’s for animals,’’ a group of Kurdish men add, shaking their heads. The term Jungle was coined to represent this feeling exactly. Though volunteers often call it the camp, refugees always refer to the rickety shanty-town as the jungle – highlighting how they feel they have suffered the utmost dehumanisation.
Refugees shout ”no jungle” during a demonstration they held against the camp in September. Video credit: Isabella Ellis
The Daily Mail’s newest cartoon corroborates their sentiment and presents a scathing attack on many people who have fled and continue to fear the same horrors that crippled Paris on Friday. Among Muslims approaching a “Europe. Open borders. Freedom of movement” sign, run a number of rats – presumably representatives of the militants who attacked Paris. Unsurprisingly, the cartoon holds no footnote that none of the killers, whose backgrounds have been confirmed, were refugees.
During a time when Charlie Hebdo and the murder of controversial cartoonists is fresh in our minds, it is important to acknowledge the fact that the European press is indeed prided on values of freedom of speech. However, in the current climate we live in, such depictions will simply facilitate a negative and misinformed backlash against already vulnerable people.
After the Rwandan genocide, where 800,000 people, referred to in the media as cockroaches, were massacred, the UN introduced a charter: “The Responsibility to Protect.” But, since this refugee crisis began, the UN and the big NGOs we are used to seeing in similar situations have been almost absent. It has therefore fallen to the public, to Europeans, to protect people fleeing unimaginable horror. The grassroots aid efforts have been inspiring, they have shown strength, unity and hope. They have defied all of the feelings the terrorists so desperately try to inflict.
Unfortunately, the Paris attacks have left Europe frightened and fearful, just as the terrorists intended. It would be easy for citizens to fall foul of the climate of fear, to retract our help and to hide behind closed doors – but this will undoubtedly make matters worse. Refugees and Muslims were the first victim of extremism, now the terrorists have turned their guns to us, too. If we close our borders and our hearts to refugees, eventually they will reciprocate and the beneficiary will be the terrorist groups that should have united us.
** Names were changed in this article to protect the identities of individuals who contributed.
Tragically, there is new kind of refugee crisis on the horizon, check out Voice of London’s exclusive publication, ‘Vox’, for the full lowdown.