A plane rushes overhead as I talk to an English language student in the Calais camp, a young guy from Iraq. He looks up at the plane and we watch it get smaller. ‘Take me with you!’ he laughs up at it. His hands, shaking dramatically at the sky, drop to his side awkwardly, the joke finished. ‘Sometimes you think differently,’ he says. ‘You wish you were Spider-Man.’ His hands make a claw as if he could sprout a web to grab onto the plane.
The planes tease those in the camp, and other refugees spread across the world. If only travel was so easy for them. Last year Hans Rosling, doctor and public speaker, made this short video explaining why refugees travel by boat rather than by plane. The video recently resurfaced and I thought it was worth sharing.
Rosling compares the price of getting a plane to that of heaving onto an overpacked boat, seeing that the latter is often almost three times the former. So why don't they get on planes? The primary issue is that the current rules state that if a person is flown to a country to claim asylum as a refugee and is turned away, the same airline must fly them back to their original country. As many people don't have the right documentation, it gets tricky.
‘The European government,’ Rosling says, ‘has escaped responsibility when they have transferred the task to decide who is a refugee and who is not a refugee, to the staff at the check in counter’. Because the mainstream airline staff don’t want to be responsible for their company having to pay for the return flight if the person in question’s documents do not prove refugee status, they refuse to take anyone without proper documents.
Hence the boats.
The boys I babysit are walking along the common, eating ice creams. Their sleeves are wet and muddy from where they’ve fallen over as a result of our football session. As one throws a strop, I realise how lucky they are to have no idea how much freedom they have. We go home and make paper aeroplanes.