Convoy to Calais: the Cambridge connection

The Convoy to Calais took place on 18 June and was a huge demonstration of solidarity with refugees from the people of Cambridge and of this country. It was a practical aid trip, but also a statement of hope in humanity and a demonstration that we will not forget those who are still stranded with no homes and no future. There are currently nearly 7,000 refugees at the camp, with around a hundred new arrivals every day.

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Six vehicles, carrying thousands of pounds' worth of material aid, and around 40 people gathered on the Backs in Cambridge for 6.30 a.m. on Saturday 18 June alongside Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner. With a good send-off, the aid, vehicles, and 30 people left for London around 6.45.

convoy1.jpgThe Cambridge convoy joined the national demonstration, including around 250 vehicles, in Whitehall at 9 a.m. Various speakers, including Diane Abbott, took to the rostrum. The convoy left for Dover around 10 a.m. After inevitably dispersing, it reconvened at the service station at junction 11 on the M20. The convoy arrived in Dover around 1 p.m. and was welcomed by local campaigners.

After queuing for check-in at Dover docks, the police corralled the entire convoy into its own area. After being held for a couple of hours, the convoy was told that the French police wouldn't let it onto the ferry.

convoy2.jpgAn impromptu demonstration was held whilst the convoy organizers negotiated with the French authorities. Around 2.30 p.m. it was confirmed that the French authorities would not allow the convoy onto the ferry. As a result the convoy decided to head to the French embassy in London, place a symbolic amount of aid outside it, and hold a demonstration there to show the convoy's discontent at not being allowed into Calais. The British police helped the convoy leave Dover at around 3 p.m.

The Cambridge part of the convoy got to the French embassy at around 6.30 p.m. and joined the demonstration that the early arrivers had started, which went on until 8 p.m. The Cambridge convoy couldn't leave its aid in London as the warehouse was full. On the way back to Cambridge it was decided to take one vanload of aid from Cambridge to Calais the following day. As much aid from the other vans as possible was transferred into the van that would make the trip.

convoy3.jpgOne van full of aid and three volunteers left Cambridge at 8.30 a.m. on Sunday 19 June and headed straight for Folkestone. It took the shuttle from Folkestone to Calais and then onto the Care4Calais warehouse which is a short drive from the shuttle terminal. The van arrived at the warehouse around 12.30 p.m. UK time. The warehouse volunteers were really pleased to see that the aid had made it through. With their help it took one or two hours to unload the van. The following week, a second vanload of aid from Cambridge also successfully made the trip to the Care4Calais warehouse.

In Cambridge, over £3,000 was raised for aid. In expenses, £298.22 was spent in diesel for the van and the shuttle crossing on the Sunday, while enough money was raised from supporters to offer to subsidize the cost of the other cars and vans that took part by £50 each. These funds were carefully kept separate from money specifically donated for refugees. The amount of support locally for the aid trip was phenomenal. Locally the convoy was supported by the Cambridge branches of Stop the War Coalition, Stand Up To Racism, and the People's Assembly Against Austerity, as well as Cambridge and District Trades Union Council, Cambridge Area Momentum, Cambridge Green Party, Cambridge Love Music Hate Racism, and local union branches including the National Union of Teachers, Unite the Union, UNISON, and the National Union of Journalists. Nationally the convoy was organized by Stand Up to Racism, the People's Assembly, Unite the Union, Communications Workers Union, TSSA, Stop the War Coalition, War on Want, Momentum, and the Muslim Association of Britain.

It's important to keep the aid flowing to Care4Calais for as long as refugees keep arriving at the camp.

We would like to express our gratitude to all the groups and individuals who helped fund the convoy from Cambridge or who donated money or items for the camp. To get keep up with and get involved in future Stand Up to Racism activities, please follow us on Facebook or write to standuptoracism.cambridge@gmail.com.


The report above was prepared for Cambridge Stand Up to Racism. We thank the group for its kind permission to publish the report, which previously circulated by e-mail. We've added one photograph (the first) kindly supplied by the photojournalist David Rose; others are by participants.

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