A sighting of a drum led to a collaboration between UK violist Benedict Taylor, two Kurdish singers and a drummer. Songs were heard and learnt, truths were told and amid the deep mud and dead rats music and song dominated, at least for a few hours.
“Conditions in Grande Synthe are some of the worst that I have seen in 20 years of humanitarian work"
Vickie Hawkins, MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) UK executive director.
When we visited the camp at Grande Synthe (near Dunkirk), about a half hour drive from the Calais 'jungle' we weren't prepared for just how grim and shocking it was. Thick mud, huge dead rates, thin tents and many children. The comparison to the Calais 'jungle' with its wooden shelters, makeshift shops and restaurants and highly organised distribution system was hard not to make. Of course, both are appalling. Despite the policing of the Grande Synthe camp entrance which forbid building materials from entering the camp, we arrived just as a group of around 150 volunteers from The Netherlands were walking in, each carrying bags of donated clothes and food.
We predominately came to Grande Synthe to distribute wind-up torches. We also brought our instruments along, just in case. Sure enough, after spotting a drum on a shelf on one of the only wooden structures in the camp, a conversation began. The drum in all our encounters is often the beginning of conversation and musical meetings. It wasn't long before some singers, possibly notified by passers-by that there was some musical activity starting up, emerged and joined us.
Kurdish culture has a rich tradition in song. The struggle for cultural survival and the political repression of the Kurds attaches gravitas and meaning to each song. Songs tell of battle, love, hope, resistance, mourning and a fight against repression.
The mayor of Grande Synthe Damien Lent asked the French Government to aid the people here - mainly Iraqui and Iranian kurds and some Syrian kurds - and to improve the apalling conditions. The government refused. The mayor turned to MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières) for help. As soon as they recevied the go-ahead work started on a new camp (away from the unsuitable flood-prone land of the current) that will cater for 2500 people in 500 tents, with 126 toilets and 66 showers.
The song in the following video is about resistance, hope and pride. It is a peshmerga song from the 1980s, when PUK Peshmerga used to have a base in the Qandil mountains, now a base for the PKK.
'"Since long ago, the pain of my people is burning my heart,
With my soul and blood I will protect my land and waters,
Oh friends, today is a burial and the heart of the people is full of pain,
Tomorrow is a merry day, a day for Kurds and freedom."
The lady in the film is called Roonak and she is in the camp with her five children. After the song session we asked her if she would like to make a statement about the situation she and her family are in. A message to the people of the world. Here it is:
"This is an appeal to Kurdish people in living Britain, but also to the people of Britain, to help to rescue us from this ‘jungle’. You can see how our lives are here. Living in the mud and cold. It is very, very difficult. People are here because their lives were under threat. They are running from instability. Our lands and territories – in Kirkuk, Hawler and Nainawa provinces – are under ISIS control. The people that you see here today are people who had life-threatening experiences at the hands of ISIS.
Therefore we are asking British people - especially Kurdish people who speak Kurdish and who live in Britain - to come here [to the camps in Calais and Dunkerque] to offer us assistance.
And perhaps we can ask the British government to take action and show some concern for our suffering here, and find a way of letting us come to Britain legally.
We are not coming to cause trouble for you, or to live off benefits. We are all talented and experienced people. We can work and look after ourselves. And we feel that we have something to offer your culture. We want to come to the UK because of your way of life and the humanity of your country. We want to be part of that, and work with you hand in hand and add our contribution to British values and culture. We want to live away from terrorists groups such as ISIS, and away from the atrocities that are happening to Kurds in these days in our lands.
This is enough. We are tired. For years now the Kurds have been crying, and our children live with tears. Kurds have always been targeted and killed systematically. This is enough now.
We call on all European nations, and the whole of humanity, to stop these terrors and stop our suffering. Don't let the Kurdish people of the future go through what we have had to suffer. The young men that you see here, they all had their careers and they are all skilled people. They are peaceful people and they are looking for better life and safe place to live, just like the people of Europe. It will be a benefit for Europe to welcome these young men and their working experiences.
We are not here to make things difficult for you and make your life harder. We are here to make our contribution to the culture and values that you worked hard to create over the centuries. We would like to share our lives with you because of what you have done in making your own country. We are grateful for what the countries of Europe have been providing for us, but this is not enough, as you see from our lives in the mud in this cold weather.
We would like to ask you to rescue us from this ‘jungle’. Our children are all sick. These young men are all stressed and have breathing problems because of this cold weather. All of us want to have a better life, and to live peacefully. Thank you to all of you. Thanks."
Roonak Muhamed Amin
Grande Synthe ‘jungle’, Northern France – 19 December 2015