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For Refugee Week 2024

Updated: Jun 23

The Most Difficult Thing*

Some Reflections on the Refugee Crisis in Calais and Dunkerque

Margaret Ferguson Burns, July 2020

The most difficult thing is when children are caught up in the machinations of grown-ups, too entrenched in hatred and greed to care about the consequences of their actions - children taken away from places too dangerous to remain - to other places too hazardous to be - sleeping in the woods, with or without tents in the freezing cold and wet - where traffickers, smugglers, abusers prowl - and parents dare not lose sight of them - and women dare not go out at night for fear of attack.

Picture a tiny girl and her mother walking into the darkness in a driving snow storm, carrying their little boxes of food, curry and rice, picked up at a food distribution in a forested country park - in a car park next to a lake - each wearing a pink plastic poncho, entirely inadequate for the conditions - she speechless, with wide bewildered eyes. Hard to watch, while shivering yourself to block out the cold of a midwinter night - the tears from the biting cold and emotion creeping up on you.

And there's a man asking for a sleeping bag – “… we only have food” - and it's a Sunday night, so not possible to arrange anything. And the only thing to do is to empty the paper cups from their box - and offer it to him for his pregnant wife to sleep on, in the unexpectedly freezing rain of a summer night - and off they go grateful into another night's wild camping.

And the time a tall young man pulled me to his shoulder, just the way my own sons might do - he leaned away and indicated with his other hand, “This is my mother”, said he, - “she is very white”. And we all exploded in floods of laughter, the food distro volunteers and refugees chatting during a quiet time - just a guy remembering his Mum in a faraway land - like many others, pleased to see a familiar presence.

The stencilled image of a little girl, above, which was part of Art in the Jungle, appears on one of the concrete support pillars under a motorway where refugees meet to shelter from the sun, wind and rain of the summer, in the dust and gravel, parallel to the rail tracks at the edge of the country park - accessing food, water, warming sweet tea, phone charging, replacement tents, shoes, clothing, toiletries, advice, first aid...and enjoying the comfort of company, however fleeting. Even in their own desperate circumstances in the north of France, thoughts are directed elsewhere to the plight of others in the Greek camps.

There are children in small groups with still smiling, grubby faces, adapting to their new surroundings, sent along from the family shelters for the hot food - and too sugary tea, too hot to carry - so it's double cups, half-filled cups, cups with cold water added, to make them safer.

The most difficult thing seems to be stopping those driven by hatred and greed from waging war and cruelty on the vulnerable, profiteering and creating this global chaos we find ourselves in.

And the very most difficult thing is finding ways to make that happen - and to get these children into the warmth and comfort of the homes, schools and communities they deserve - and live a peaceful and productive life.

*a wee thing written in response to a selected topic for AudaciArt, a weekly digital magazine run by the organisers of the Audacious Women Festival during the first Scottish COVID19 lockdown

photo and text ©Margaret Ferguson Burns


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