Humans of the Calais Jungle

Hannah Rose Thomas is an artist and Arabic student from London. She has organised art projects with refugees for UNHCR in Jordan, and will be returning to the refugee camps there this April.

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From left to right: Hannah, Mohammad and Jaz O'Hara, founder of The Worldwide Tribe

The Calais Jungle blights the conscience of Britain and with the clearing of the camp last week, ought to leave an irrevocable scar. 

I have never witnessed such inhumane conditions, not even in refugee camps in the Middle East. Returning from my first visit to the Jungle in December, I felt something close to despair. Despair that only one hour from the shores of Britain, six thousand refugees languish in squalor, battered by bitter winds in makeshift shelters and by frequent tear-gas attacks from police. How can we allow such injustice?

I was humbled by the hospitality of the Sudanese community of the Jungle. We were welcomed into their shelters as honoured guests and warmed with countless cups of chai. They shared their stories of villages destroyed, of sun-scorched desert treks without water and of perilous sea voyages in which many drowned. The depth of their sorrow was palpable.

The shelters of the Sudanese community were demolished this week. Over fifty riot vans surrounded the camp yesterday morning to aggressively enforce the evictions.

Many of those evicted are vulnerable children and young adults.

I can never forget Abdul-Rahman, a Syrian boy. He was shaking with trauma when he came to the clinic where I was volunteering. His whole family had been killed in bombings in Syria. He had travelled through Europe alone, mostly on foot, sleeping in the streets. No fifteen-year-old should have had to endure so much.

Every person I’ve met in The Jungle has a story of suffering and remarkable resilience. It was to share their stories that I’ve painted some of their portraits. I hope to convey our shared humanity through these paintings, especially due to the tense political climate that capitalises on accentuating difference and fear.

Mohammad is a refugee from Darfur. For his portrait painting he is standing outside his shelter and home for the last four months. In his hands is his most treasured possession; a colouring book containing his beautiful Arabic poetry. I tried to capture something of his dignity and sensitive spirit even in the midst of such hardship.

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The translation of his Arabic poem included in this portrait painting describes his flight from war in Sudan:

No, no, no to injustice no

Homes                   Burned

Mosques                Destroyed

Schools                  Burned down

Men                        Killed

Women                  Widowed

Children                 Taken

Money                    Stolen 

The youth              Displaced

At sea                    Boarded

Some of them       Drowned

And some             Were taken

In Europe             Become refugees.

Britain's increasingly hostile response to refugees fleeing war and persecution is shamefully inadequate. Even though this is taking place across the Chanel, we cannot wash our hands of responsibility to respond with compassion.

For more of Hannah’s art visit this page