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Calais, France, March 2024

We are delighted to share this latest reflection from Alex Holmes, long term volunteer in Calais who recently returned from another few weeks there. All names have been changed except Roula's. Photos of Roula's grave by Rachel Givens.

“TODAY little Roula drowned. Little Roula from Iraq. Roula who was just seven years old. The media describe the boat she was in as ‘makeshift’. She was with her father, her pregnant mother, her three siblings and several other adults and children. UK bound, this ‘makeshift’ boat capsizes in a canal twenty six kilometres inland from Dunkirk and Roula drowns. So brief, so tragically brief the circle of little Roula’s life.

TODAY the full moon, another circle. It punctures the leafless willows and casts ghostly shadows across the flooded ground of the Eritrean ‘jungle’. How long have you been here? Kelete werhee, two moons, says Keren. For Negus it’s many moons, at least thirty-six. If only the police came to the ‘jungle’ once in a blue moon, he says. But they come every two days. That really isn’t my cup of tea. I love English idioms. He grins. What is your goal Negus? My goal? A pause, his face now serious. My goal is to stay alive.

TODAY, at last, the sun, a fiery circle in a cloudless sky. After a week of relentless rain, the flood waters in the ‘jungle’ are receding. Hanna and Dellina, aged five and eight, smile in the doorway of their tent. A moated dwelling raised above the flood water on wooden pallets. They were here with their mother four moons ago, then left. Evening now, the circle is setting. The twilight glare of the western sky silhouettes the juggernauts that power along the near horizon. The glow of the dying fire. A neat circle of wood is added. We count the rings. Twenty three. Twenty three years. That’s my age comes a voice from someone around the fireside. Goitom.

TODAY the ‘jungle’ is emptying. The weather is good. People will ‘try’ for the UK. Smiles, farewells, handshakes. Condoms in which to store phones and keep them dry. A buzz of excitement and anticipation after the winter moons of waiting, and they’ve gone.

TODAY they are back. Deflated. The captain he was frightened, they say. Go that way we told him, pointing towards the UK, but he just went round and round in circles. The police got to us. They destroyed the boat. No luck this time, they say.

TODAY face to face across a table in Coquelles detention centre. Eyob, as always, laughing his way through life. I celebrated my birthday with my friends last week, he says. We drank a lot. Then I left them and went to the port to try and get into a lorry. It was a jump of five metres and they caught me. How can you still walk they asked. The judge gave me twenty eight days. He was chewing gum when he sentenced me. Chewing gum, how crazy is that. They will deport me to Germany but I will come back.

TODAY, an article in La Voix du Nord. ‘Because of the large number of migrants using the bus network, the transport authority is looking into the possibility of reserving free travel for Calais residents only’. Bus number 4. Destination Utrillo. To the front, Calais workers homebound. To the back, refugees jungle bound. The signature ‘jungle’ smell of wood smoke. A young Sudani is flattening and now folding a found train ticket. He delicately balances his creation on the narrow window sill of the bus. A boat? A small boat, he says. A past memory, perhaps, or a hope for the future? He picks up the little boat and places it in the palm of my hand. We smile.

TODAY at 4.30 pm little Roula will be buried. The family would like flowers at the funeral. Roula loved to put flowers in her hair they say. So brief the circle of little Roula’s life. So tragically brief.”

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