During Fall of 2015 there was this wave of news about the Calais Jungle. This huge illegal camping that refugees or migrants, also known as people or human beings, had in the hoods around the port of Calais (where the ferries go to the UK). The news coverage was bigger than usual because French authorities beat them out of there, dispersing them – not arresting them, deporting the, just dispersing them and destroying the little property they had.
I remember this women, English teacher from, I believe, Syria that walked all the way from her home country with her 3 kids: one lap baby months old and, if memory serves me, a 3 and 6 years old.
In an interview she said something of the kind: “They say we cannot go where we want, that they will stop us. I walked here all the way from Syria. Who are they to think they can stop me…?“
People embark in this pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, most of them are not even religious. During the path everybody claims they changed. They became aware they were capable of things they haven’t even dreamt before. All of them report that at some point they thought about giving up. Some of them more than once. To just walk to the nearest bus or train stop and go back to the comfort of home, maybe try again next year. And yet… they keep on pushing. And they push all the way to Finisterra, there where the path ends, and the dreams begin.
Those few thousands now stuck in Belarus, just meters away from Poland, bring memories of Calais. Of the Jungle. Not so cold as now is in Belarus. But, in the end, the exact same thing. A bottle neck in the path. A minor setback.
All this happens not far from the biggest remaining patch of primeval forest (a forest with no visible traits of human activity) in Europe, the Belovezhskaya Pushcha. But in opposition to this nature sanctuary the Bruzgi Jungle is invades by fences, barbed wire, helicopters, and an army detachment. And yet, facing the sub zero temperatures of Bruzgi is one million times safer than jumping on some raft not knowing when they will drown in the Mediterranean to reach Greece or Malta.
We can largely discuss the responsibility of Lukashenko’s regime in the crowding of this portion of the border, the Bruzgi Jungle, with thousands of pilgrims on the way to the promised Germany. Fact is most of those using the Minsk route into European Union now would eventually try their luck elsewhere. If you explain to those now living in Bruzgi that they are being instrumentalized by Lukashenko they may understand it. They may even agree with you. But they will not, for one second, stop being thankful to him for this opportunity to come closer the end of their path.
Unlike the “spiritual self-improvement” journey taken by those to Santiago, these pilgrims don’t have the option of stopping, entering the bus, and head back home. They left on the pilgrimage of their lives. Their goal is not so “discover themselves”, the vanity of doing it and displaying it in Instagram, or a getaway from a comfortable life back home. Their goal is survival. To escape misery, oppression, persecution, maybe even death. There is no home comfort to go back to.
Who are we to think we can stop them…?
They will not stop.