"I Don't Want to Die. This War Is Not My War": A Syrian in France's Largest Refugee Camp Speaks Out
Broadcasting from Paris, France, Democracy Now! travels an hour and a half north of the city to Calais, site of the largest refugee camp in the country. Six to seven thousand people are camped out in makeshift tents. Their goal is to reach Britain, and each night members of the camp set out along the highway to the Channel Tunnel, where they attempt to cross into Britain by jumping on top of or inside trucks or lorries. We meet Majd, a 21-year-old Syrian man, one of thousands stranded in the the camp. He describes how a Sudanese man named Joseph was recently killed when he was run over by a car on the highway. On Saturday, camp residents protested that the police hadn’t stopped the driver, and held signs reading "We are Humans, Not Dogs" and "What Do the Survivors of War Have to Do to Live in Peace?" This comes as the world faces the greatest exodus of people since World War II. On Monday, the United Nations appealed for $20 billion in additional aid money, saying that at present funding levels the U.N. is "not able to provide even the very minimum in core protection and lifesaving assistance." U.N. officials cited the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan as one of the major reasons there are nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. The largest single displaced community is Syrians, with 4 million refugees forced outside Syria’s borders by the ongoing conflict.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from the U.N. climate summit in Paris, France. Today, we start today’s show with the global refugee crisis, the greatest exodus of people since World War II. On Monday, the United Nations appealed for $20 billion in additional aid, saying that at present funding levels the U.N. is, quote, "not able to provide even the very minimum in core protection and lifesaving assistance." U.N. officials cited the wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and South Sudan as one of the major reasons there are nearly 60 million people forcibly displaced worldwide. The largest single displaced community are Syrians, with 4 million refugees forced outside Syria’s borders by the ongoing conflict. Last week, after a contentious 10-hour debate, the British Parliament voted to authorize airstrikes against Syria. The bombing began within hours.
Well, only a few days later, Democracy Now! traveled, oh, an hour and a half north of Paris to the Calais refugee camp. It’s the largest refugee camp in France. Six to seven thousand people are living there, camped out in makeshift tents. Their goal is to reach Britain. And each night people set out along the highway to the Channel Tunnel, where they attempt to cross into Britain by jumping on top of or inside trucks or lorries. A few days earlier, a Sudanese man named Joseph was killed when he was run over by a car on the highway. On Saturday, while we were at the Calais refugee camp, residents protested that the police had not stopped the driver. People held signs reading "We are Humans, Not Dogs" and "What Do the Survivors of War Have to Do to Live in Peace?"
AMY GOODMAN: Right next to the refugee camp is this overpass, and we’ve heard that a young Sudanese man was killed, hit by a car, and the car didn’t stop. And the people are angry because the police didn’t arrest the driver. They’re holding up signs in Arabic and English that say, "Our destiny here is unknown," "Today, Joseph. Tomorrow, who?" "Where is the U.N. in this?" "Europe, do you hear our call from Calais?" "Our destiny here is unknown."
Can you tell me your name and what you’re doing here?
MAJD: My name is Majd. I’m from Syria. I’m here, like everyone. I’m a refugee, escaped from the war. Yes, from two days ago, it was—there was a refugee on the highway, and some people here on the highway killed him. This is a murder.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they run him over?
MAJD: Yes, they run him over on the highway. Yes. It is not the first time. But it’s the first time he—it’s the first one he is dead, yeah. We have another ones in the hospitals. And there is a lot of violence here. The treatment of the police, the treatment of the truck drivers, it’s not good at all. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does your sign say?
MAJD: Yes, it say, "Today, Joseph. Tomorrow, who?" Maybe me, maybe someone from my country, from my friends, from my family here.
AMY GOODMAN: Where was Joseph from?
MAJD: Joseph is from Sudan.
AMY GOODMAN: And where are you from?
AMY GOODMAN: And when did you come here?
MAJD: Two months ago.
AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here?
MAJD: I’m here to go to the U.K., yes.
AMY GOODMAN: To?
MAJD: The U.K., United—to the United Kingdom.
AMY GOODMAN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And where did you live in Syria?
MAJD: In Damascus.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did you leave?
MAJD: I escaped from the war. I don’t want to be—to die. This war is not my war. Yes, everyone is fighting in my country, yes. So, I escaped from the war. I don’t want to be dead for nothing.
AMY GOODMAN: How old are you?
AMY GOODMAN: Are you a student?
MAJD: No, no. I was working, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And what was happening in Damascus?
MAJD: In Damascus, now it’s just the Assad regime there. They’re taking all the young people, the young boys, to the war. They must go to the army. Yes, there is no—no one there is civilians, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And you said everyone is attacking your country. Who?
MAJD: Yes. Who? Everyone. Russia and America and Iran—everyone. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what do you want to do?
MAJD: I just want to live in peace and be like any human again. Yes, to have a family, to be safe. Yes, that’s just it.
AMY GOODMAN: Is your family back in Syria?
MAJD: Yes, yes. I have just three—two sisters and one brother, small brother.
AMY GOODMAN: They stayed.
MAJD: Yes, and my father and mother are there.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did your parents think about you leaving?
MAJD: They just want me to be safe, yeah. They sent me out.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you think the Russian, Syrian, French, British bombing of Syria will save it?
MAJD: No, no, no, it’s not a solution. You can’t protect someone by killing someone else. You know? They can’t stop the bombs here when they bomb in Syria. Yes, it’s not a solution.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the solution?
MAJD: The solution is not giving the weapons to everyone. They’re giving the weapons to the Free Army, to the Assad regime, to ISIS. They just give weapons and money, and just they let them fight in my country. Just stop the weapons.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Britain just voted. The U.K. just voted to bomb Syria, as well. You want to try to get into Britain.
MAJD: Britain or the U.S.A. The governments or the people? Who votes? Who voted? I’m asking. The government, who—I mean, it’s not the people. I will go to the U.K. to live with the civilians. I am not going to their government, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Majd has just taken us to the house that him and his friends have built out of—you made it out of wood?
MAJD: Wood, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And plastic?
MAJD: Plastic and some blankets.
AMY GOODMAN: How many of you sleep in here?
AMY GOODMAN: Three of you.
MAJD: Yes, two on the floor and one in the bed, if you can call it a bed.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what—when you were in Syria, where you lived with your family, what you did, what your parents do.
MAJD: We have a building, whole building. My family was in the upstairs, and they have a factory. Yes, a paint factory.
AMY GOODMAN: Uh-huh, a paint factory, yes.
MAJD: Paint factory, yes. It was bombed from five years ago. Yeah, I was living a good life—cars and houses and the parties and everything. Yeah, we lost everything right now.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m surprised you can still smile.
MAJD: Yeah, I have to. If I don’t smile, it will be the end of my life.
AMY GOODMAN: I see on your phone you have a picture of your family. Can you show me?
MAJD: Yes, this is my family, my small brother and my father and my sister—daughter—I don’t know how to call it.
AMY GOODMAN: How many months or years do people stay here?
MAJD: Most of them about—there is no specific time or something. Some people, one week; some people, one year. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And is it legal? Will the police come and take you out of it, this house or this tent?
MAJD: I told you, there is no specific thing to do with the police. It’s not legal, but they can’t take us out. Yes, it’s complicated. They call it a jungle. Yes, it’s where the animals live. They treat us like animals.
AMY GOODMAN: Does the U.N. know that you’re here, that this refugee camp is here?
MAJD: I think we are invisible to the U.N. here. We didn’t see anyone from them. And we didn’t have any help and anything from them. Yeah, I saw them in Greece and other countries, but here, there is no one. They don’t see us. I don’t know. They don’t care, maybe. Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Majd. He didn’t want us to use his full name, fearful for the safety of his family back in Damascus, Syria. Majd is 21 years old, one of thousands stranded in the Calais refugee camp, which many there call "The Jungle." It’s about two miles—or two hours north of Paris. They’re all hoping to make their way to Britain. Special thanks to Laura Gottesdiener, Nermeen Shaikh, Hany Massoud and Denis Moynihan. We’ll be back in the refugee camp in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "Borders" by M.I.A. She directed the video, featuring refugees, that follows them on their hazardous journey to Europe. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.