Limbo

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‘The Jungle, Calais, Christmas Day – These two men are Bedouin Arabs from Kuwait – they described themselves as ‘no paper’. This basically means that in the country of their birth they are born with no documentation whatsoever, which means they have no right to healthcare, education or welfare of any kind.
The guy on the right earned a living in Kuwait by selling fruit ‘illegally’, he spent most of his days being moved-on by the police. The other man was in the same situation, he washed car windows at the side of the road. They want to get to the UK to find work, legally.

If the country you were born in refuses to recognise your existence, then is it so wrong to go and find it elsewhere…?’

I posted the above photograph and accompanying text on my Facebook photography page after spending the day with a group Kuwaiti Bedouin Arabs on Christmas Day. I’d been photographing the men as part of a project based in the migrant/refugee camp in Calais, France. The post sparked quite a few responses, most of which were so xenophobic and offensive I had to delete them. A lot of people were asking why these people have to come to the UK and why can’t they stay in France?

I wanted to respond to the comments immediately, indignantly… however, I haven’t spent enough time in Calais to actually fathom what’s really going-on there – the place is shrouded so densely by rumour and lies that I think I’d need to be there for weeks to cut through it, which is something I intend to do. So, for this initial article I’m not going to attempt to delve into the intricate political, religious and social issues intertwining the squalid patch of land, just off the A216, that is ‘The Jungle’.

For now, and until manage to go through all the photographic and visual notes I made over Christmas, all I’ll say is this – I don’t think anyone should necessarily be grateful of their birthplace… you can’t be grateful, or ungrateful, for something you didn’t ask for. However, I do feel appreciative that I live in a country from where I can travel to just about anywhere I like in the world, not just to visit, but to work too – So, why is it any different for six Kuwaiti Bedouin Arabs, or anybody else living in limbo along the Northwestern French coast?

All images made using iPhone 6s and Fuji Instax 300 instant camera.

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17 comments

  1. Phil, indignant is an excellent response. It is what I feel when reading about the hypocrisy of European (and other) countries.

    I emigrated to Canada at the age of 1 – my parents were economic migrants from Europe fleeing a class and social system that at the time did not permit timely advancement based solely on merit. The year we arrived my family took in a large family fleeing the Hungarian revolution, 7 of the 37,000 admitted that year of the 200,000 that left Hungary. Now I see Hungarian xenophobia running rampant in the news and it makes me sick – do they think their relatives of the 1950s should have festered in a Jungle somewhere in Austria for years or even a generation, or should they have gone back to Hungary at that time? Do they think that those refugees were somehow a deficit to the countries that admitted them? Surely not since it seems that they are so much superior to other people that they would be welcomed as a benefit.

    As for the British who are likely most of your commentators – that is the country my parents fled as did so many others – in the early 50s it was an intolerable place for so many other than a privileged minority, and they left in droves even though bombs were no longer falling and things were looking up. My parents gave themselves and their family to Canada in return for becoming Canadian and it was to Canada’s benefit. Just think what it would be like in Britain if there was nowhere over a century or more for those millions and millions like my family to go to for a better life.

    These two examples apply to all European countries. It strikes me now that most of those same countries (with a couple of notable exceptions) are not paying forward the generosity their people have received in the past. It sucks.

    Keep on telling this story, even if it makes your work a focus for hatred. It needs to be told with the humanity and clarity you bring to your excellent work. I hope you have a great 2016, keep on keeping on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jane Grove

    I honestly believe you are doing great things here, Phil. People are going to look back at this project in years to come and say ‘this is where it all started’. Please keep on doing what you do, show the world.

    Like

  3. Jack Lindon

    I’ve followed your work for a few years now, your accent has been magnificent to watch. I knew, as soon as I saw your Yellowknife images, you were destined for great things. I can’t wait to see the latest Calais photographs!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Keep up the good work in The Jungle and elsewhere.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly. Why is there so much nasty condemnation for peoples who just want a good life and to bring up their families in peace.
    Why should 99% of these refugees and/or immigrants be blamed for the other 1% (actually it’s less than that).
    I think some of these bigots should spend time in the shoes of these people fleeing their homeland before they criticise them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James Preston (British Citizen living in Paris)

    I’m sorry, but you can’t just walk into this place, spend a few hours with one very small minority, take a few snaps on your phone, then go back to your hotel and then base an opinion on it. Utter rubbish. Like most other journalists you have plucked a few inaccurate facts out of other news reports and cobbled something together out of that. Irresponsible journalism. Try spending a bit of time in The Jungle, I think you’ll be in for a shock…🙂

    Like

    • Hi James – I’ve spent about 4 weeks in The Jungle. For my last trip there I stayed in a camper van on the outskirts of the camp and in a car park on Calais harbour. Me and my assistant spent nearly every day in the place, as well as in the camp at Grande Synthe (have you even heard of that one, James?) from 7am until 2am, most days.
      My opinion is based on what I saw, other people’s opinion will be based on the 600+ photographs I took, on film.

      Yes, I’ll be spending more time in the migrant camps because like everyone else who actually visits these places, I was shocked. Maybe you should spend a bit of time reading back through my blog to find-out what I’m actually doing, James?

      Liked by 6 people

    • James. I think you are being rather harsh and inaccurate in your criticism of Phil Kneen. If you read back through his blog I think you’ll find he not only has camped and spent some weeks in ‘this place’ as you call it, but has offered us a variety of images and if I remember rightly, has said he is unable to form an opinion as yet, as despite spending some weeks in The jungle, he feels that much more time is needed.

      Personally, I think he has been very objective and offered us his images allowing us, his blog followers, to form our own opinions if we wish to do so.

      Please take the time to read older posts before jumping in with unfair criticism on his current post.

      We all have stories to tell about our lives. Please give Phil the time and space to share what he sees and hears, and then, if you genuinely feel a need to comment, do so civilly.

      Like

  6. Louis Hennepin

    I’m living in Calais, I see both sides of the people who stay in The Jungle – yes they are humans like you and me, but why do they have to shit next to the tents where they live when WC have been provided? Why are they not having to use the sacks that are provided for their refuge and just make piles in the open? I think also to eat with these people is a mistake for your health! Also many of these men are dishonest – things that go wrong and have gone missing have greatly increased in my home over the last few years. These people need to go home for none of them are really what you can call a refugee. They are all or mostly coming to the north for money.

    Phil, I look forward to your next visit – we can meet, talk, you can maybe photograph the other side of this problem we have? Happy New Year to you my friend.

    Louis Hennepin, Calais Nord.

    Like

  7. Lynn Wilson

    I firmly believe that charity begins at home – we should not be helping these people when we have problems enough at home in the UK… but the issues in the UK aren’t media hot at the moment are they, they aren’t ‘fashionable’. I’ve seen the footage of migrants threatening lorry drivers with hammers – why on earth would you want to help these people? Nobody asked them to live in such conditions, they deserve everything they get. Sorry.

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    • I don’t think any of these human beings asked for us to interfere in their countries because at the time it was financially viable and then they fuck off when the shit hits the fan and the despots rise up! I guess maybe we left people to be tortured, starve and die because it wasn’t ‘fashionable’.
      Our so called ‘problems’ that need solving first at home are cyclical and start with education- I can see they fucked up on yours- and a transformational prime minister and party that represents our interests, not Rupert Murdoch’s and the rest of the lords.
      I am actually wondering how you found yourself here actually; Phil have you accidentally tagged your page with a Britain First affiliate???

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Colleen North

    You’re doing amazing work – you will be a lot more than a mere footnote in a history book. Please, keep on doing what you’re doing, your work is superb.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Phil, I love the work that you’ve been doing in The Jungle, and think that you’re documenting a really important occurrence. All the political stuff aside, at a basic human rights level, every single person deserves to be recognised as being ‘real’, as being alive and part of a society.If a person’s country of birth won’t provide that for them (so that they can make a decent honest living, obtain health care etc), then surely we (people in more fortunate countries) could show enough compassion to allow those people to live in a country that will validate them as living, breathing human beings.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Because it is easier to formulate an opinion based on a feeling and not the facts, you end up with some of the “opinions” directed at your post. I admire that you are diving into this issue with your camera and holding any opinion until you have discovered the facts. Middle Eastern refugees are part of a large problem in the world today. Prejudiced solutions are not going to solve it. Love them or hate them, they are there and they are people. Unlike other waves of international immigration throughout history, were the refugees only faced racial prejudice, the Muslim immigrants carry a stigma created by terrorism and unrest. While these things are the result of the actions of a very small part of this group, they do exist and only exacerbates the fear causing innocent people suffer. This is a tough situation and I’m glad you are looking into it. Keep your lenses and your mind clear. I look forward to seeing what you discover.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. You make a great point about having the freedom to travel and work wherever you want. I am American and just moved to Thailand. It is such a luxury to be able to work in other countries. I bet 99% of the people who posted the xenophobic stuff aren’t even in job competition with anyone who might come to the UK as a migrant worker.

    Like

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