Help Support the Refugees in Calais


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Just across the shores from Britain, 4,500 people are living in squalid conditions in the Calais refugee camp known as “The Jungle.”

What has been described as the biggest humanitarian crisis since the second world war continues to unfold as thousands drown in the Mediterranean, fleeing warzones and bombs being dropped on them by Western governments, including Britain.

Fortress Europe has been established with a shameful deal being struck between Turkey and the EU seeing desperate people being forcibly removed and sent back into the arms of those they are fleeing. In a display of callousness, Tory MPs voted down an amendment to the Immigration Bill and denied entry to Britain to 3,000 unaccompanied Syrian children. At a time when Tory racism is running rampant and migrants are being scapegoated, the convoy is more important than ever. I was part of a delegation of organisers that went across to Calais to meet with aid organisations and others ahead of the Convoy to Calais. It was heartening to see the spirited volunteers who are running the warehouses and what seemed to be a slick distribution operation. This is important in ensuring that the right items are reaching the refugees as they sort through boxes and bags of donated items.

Members of the delegation who had been to Calais previously expressed their surprise at what they saw once we reached the camp. What was once a vibrant and busy area had vanished following a controversial clearance which sounded brutal as police fired tear gas at refugees and bulldozers moved in to destroy their homes. Many of them caught fire and were burned to the ground.

French President Francois Hollande described the clearances as a success, however one of the aid workers we met said that what she thought he meant was that it had “cleared the idea of the camp from the minds of the public.” Many people think that the camp has disappeared, and this can be a problem in the process of collecting aid for refugees. We heard about an attempt to burn down one of the warehouses collecting and storing aid. Fortunately one of the volunteers was on site and called the fire brigade and police. While firefighters put out the blaze, we heard that the police stood by doing nothing other than laughing and saying: “Good luck to them.”

There was a nervousness about the politics of the convoy and the message that we are bringing. This is understandable given the complexities of running aid operations and of building relationships with local prefectures, the police and other authorities, but it also underlines even further the need for a bold political statement and message of solidarity.  This is the key to the convoy. It is not just an aid trip but the biggest show of solidarity with refugees this country has ever seen.

When we went to the camp, what I saw was a resilience and great courage from a people who have experienced unknowable trauma and have fled their homes to seek a safer and more secure life. We met some extraordinary people. One of the first people we met was an Ethiopian man who was pleased to see us, inviting us to his home and with great pride showing us the church that they had built that had featured on Songs of Praise.

Young men were playing cricket and football, encouraging us to have a kick of the ball. Many people would smile and greet us with a “hello.” But there was a more serious side. As we walked past a young man with his face covered with dressings, he nodded over to our guide with a knowing look and simply said “police,” pointing to his wounds. It appears that this is a common occurence.

The camp itself was more of a shanty town, with the refugees having built their own shops and restaurants. Homes were made from sheets and wood. One of the most poignant messages among the many anti-war slogans that were painted on walls and tarpaulin was simple — “Together we are stronger.”

This political statement underpins the message of the convoy — solidarity with refugees and a clear message to the Tory government ahead of the EU referendum.

The Convoy to Calais will leave Whitehall at 9:30am on Saturday June 18 in moving protest. The convoy has been organised by the People’s Assembly, Stop the War and Stand Up to Racism and is supported by trade unions including Unite, Unison, Aslef, CWU, PCS, TSSA and organisations including the Muslim Association of Britain and the Woodcraft Folk. Further information, including how to book your space and the approved list of  donations, can be found here,


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  • Anne Gray
    commented 2016-06-13 16:29:16 +0100
    Just come back from a weekend working with Care4Calais, sorting donated food and clothes in their warehouse and helping distribute food in the camp. Brilliant organisation, deserve lots of money not just to buy things but to pay for their vehicles and the rent on their big warehouse. There is amazing hope and solidarity in the camp and amongst the volunteer helpers – share it, feel it, spread it, it’s an inspiring place despite the tacky shacks, the cold and the wet. I learned this weekend that the refugees need specific things, not just anything that a charity shop might want. So please people, bear this in mind when collecting stuff. There are very few women and children in this particular camp and although any women’s and children’s clothing they get in excess of requirements is being packed up for Syrians elsewhere, it’s best to focus on men’s and teenage boys’ clothing. Think what you would wear when camping in the rain in 15 degrees like it was yesterday – warm jogging pants, warm jackets and hoodies are the main things, rather than t-shirts or office clothes. They need sturdy but respectable boots and trainers for rough ground with lots of puddles. And new underwear and socks. Care4Calais are rightly keen on keeping people’s dignity, so relatively new, clean, neatly folded clothing is the thing – and especially non-iron stuff as the refugees obviously can’t iron clothes. Blankets are much more popular than duvets, because easier to wash, and to dry out if they get rained on. Though they are developing an interesting new use for old duvets – internal wall insulation! I might even try that myself at home. And if you’re lucky you might even learn Afghan kite-making techniques.

    Good luck to the convoy!
  • Robert Miller
    commented 2016-06-10 16:34:38 +0100
    What I fail to understand is, if they are refugees, why can’t they find refuge in France, or any other of the safe countries they must have passed through? And why do they need “aid” from the UK? Shouldn’t that be a matter for the French (socialist) government?
  • Rosie Strickland
    commented 2016-06-07 13:31:28 +0100
    Not sure if you’re aware but you will be entering the camp in the middle of Ramadan. This could be difficult for those taking part as tensions could be high, and also could be seen as culturally disrespectful to practicing Muslims in the camp. I’d advise working with a culturally-aware contact, or organisation to make sure what you are doing is culturally sensitive, bearing in mind it is one of the biggest cultural events in the Muslim calendar. See for more info.

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