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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

Rest in Peace

Updated: May 20, 2023

I went to a funeral today.

It was a funeral for a young Somali man who tragically perished when struck by a semi truck on the motorway near the Port of Calais. The news articles don’t say for certain, but it’s likely he was attempting to climb on a truck in order to cross to the UK.

He was 20 years old.

The funeral itself was beautiful and peaceful. It was also deeply moving, tragic, and heartbreaking. It was not the first such funeral I’ve attended while living in Calais, and unless something drastically changes to make this border safe, I promise you it won’t be the last.

Since 1999, at least 148 people have died at this border. I went to the vigil that was held for this man the day after he died last week. At the vigil a scroll was rolled out. On it was listed the name, age, and place of origin for every person who has died at the border between Calais and the UK since 1999. I was struck by just how long the scroll was.

A scroll with the names of those who have died at the border

I joined the Somali community at the funeral in the west of Calais, at a cemetery where many such people are buried. Indeed, there is a whole section of the cemetery dedicated to the burial of people in exile. I saw the pain in the faces of his brothers and his friends as they said final prayers and lowered his casket into the ground. I saw them shovel the dirt into the hole. I witnessed a feeling I know all too well: the excruciatingly painful loss of a loved one, taken from this earth far too soon.

I kept a respectful distance, as did all of the non-somalis who were present. I didn’t take any photos out of respect for the family. There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say to offer solace to them in their time of grief. I stood silently in the beautiful spring weather and simply observed.

I said a prayer for the man’s family and friends, a large number of whom were present. I prayed for peace and God’s love to be surrounding them in this tragedy and loss. I thought of the young man himself. I pray that he didn’t spend his final moments alone. I am comforted by the fact that he was deeply known and truly loved by our God. In one sense, he didn’t have to die alone, even if no one else was around. God was there, embracing him in his arms. I pray that he rests in peace, even though he was taken from this earth far, far too soon.

The border between France and the UK

It behooves us to remember that the deaths at the border both here and at the southern border in the United States are always reported as numbers. But behind each number is a human being, with dreams and wishes and goals. For those in Calais, the dream is to go to a place where they can live a life free of fear and of oppression. Why else would anyone submit themselves to such a dehumanizing experience as those in exile in Calais live?

I know his will not be the final death at this border. I know there will be a time when someone I love and know personally becomes one of the numbers reported in the news. I dread that day each and every time someone walks out the door of the Maria Skobtsova House to take their chances on the Channel. I am not exaggerating when I say that it keeps me up at night.

This must be stopped. Safe passages must be established. We cannot rest until it ends.

Rest in peace, my brother.

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