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Stranded in France: Two refugees tell their stories

by Athena Fajardo (2020-06-27)

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Stephen T. Shankland

This is part of our about how technology is helping with the global refugee crisis -- if at all. More than 6,000 people fled war and slogged across a continent to get to a refugee camp in northern France. Now they endure political hostility in a place they don't want to be. Sudanese, Afghans, Chadians, Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians and others live in a Calais camp known as the Jungle, and another in Grande-Synthe about 25 miles east, because the camps are the closest jumping-off points to the UK, the country they want to be in. That's where many refugees, who often speak English, have family and friends. My colleague Rich Trenholm and I visited the camps in June to get a feel for how technology is -- or isn't -- helping refugees. Mobile phones provide a psychologically important link, but they can't help refugees scale 15-foot steel-mesh fences topped with razor wire or climb into moving trucks headed to the UK. We've encountered fears that refugees coming to Europe mean lost jobs, the spread of Islam and even more terror attacks. We didn't encounter any of those motives while speaking to dozens of refugees -- only frustration at being stranded in this dreary French city, a three-hour drive from the thriving culture of Paris. Here are the stories of two people we met. Kamil Shamal, a 16-year-old from Afghanistan, shows his phone outside the Jungle refugee camp in France, but he doesn't want his face photographed.
Stephen Shankland/CNET
The would-be studentKamil Shamal shows me why he fled Afghanistan. Kamil Shamal's message: He's poor, a Muslim -- but not a terrorist.Enlarge ImageKamil Shamal's handwritten message: He's poor, a Muslim -- but not a terrorist.
Stephen Shankland/CNET
The 16-year-old balances my camera tripod on his shoulder and sights along its length to take aim at an imaginary target. Shamal is pantomiming a rocket launcher, but he puts it down with disgust. The Taliban attempted to conscript Shamal, pulling him out of school and signing him up as a soldier for the fundamentalist Islamic group. "I said no," Shamal tells me in the Jungle, the squalid refugee camp in Calais that he spent 13 months trying to reach. In the US, kids Shamal's age live at home and study at high school. That's what Shamal wanted too. But the Taliban doesn't approve of education. With No Other Roofing Company In Northern California Inspects one to turn to -- both of his parents are dead and he's lost touch with a brother who ran away from home -- he made his way across the Middle East and Europe alone. "I leave everything," he says. "I have no home, no school and one shirt." Now Shamal wants to make it to the UK, where his cousin lives and where he thinks he has a better chance to learn a profession. He speaks English too, though not fluently. His prospects are dim.