Undiscouraged by the rain and ankle-deep mud, seven-year-old Hesti beamed with excitement as her father taught her how to ride a bicycle. Wearing wellington boots, a winter jacket and a big smile, Hesti fought to turn the tiny pedals as she trudged through the sludge on her small colourful bike. Originally from the Kurdish region of Iraq, Hesti and her family fled their home in 2014 when Islamic State militants began to seize control of vast swathes of northern Iraq.
I met Hesti in January 2016 inside the unofficial refugee camp known as the ‘jungle’ near the town of Calais in France. In keeping with the cultural generosity and hospitality of their homeland, her family invited me to join them for a traditional Kurdish meal inside a small caravan, donated to them by the British organisation Jungle Canopy. Like thousands of others surviving in the muddy fields of the camp, Hesti’s family had endured many months living in meagre conditions, which barely met their daily needs, while they awaited an opportunity to cross the English Channel to be reunited with family members and begin a new life in the UK.
The instinct to flee danger, to protect one’s family and seek out security has driven millions of families and individuals to leave their homes and embark on difficult and dangerous journeys in the hope of reaching the safety of European shores. From the water-logged fields of the Jungle camp in Calais to the dangerously overcrowded detention centres on the Greek island of Lesbos, the situation for refugees in Europe is a bleak one, with the reality often at odds with their pre-conceptions of compassion, justice and humanity they had hoped to find amongst European people and their governments.