Calais Solidarity Trip
Jon Woollard gives his impressions of a solidarity trip to the refugees in Calais last month:
Calais Solidarity Trip
22/10/16 – 25/10/16
Authorities in France began removing migrants and refugees from the Calais “jungle” camp three weeks ago. Some 8,000 refugees, including 1,500 children and young people, were thrown to the wind. The figure was down from over 10,000 refugees who were there in September. Some left ahead of the demolition. But around 1,300 unaccompanied children remained in the camp—and the demolition put them at risk.
A group of us (Eight NUT members) travelled to Calais to volunteer in the charity warehouse (Care 4 Calais) and assist wherever we could in regards to the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp. Jobs within the warehouse ranged from unpacking/sorting charity donations to packaging vital food resources. Cooperation and coordination was crucial to ensuring the operation ran smoothly. This was very tough at times, especially when information from the French Government was scarce and conflicting.
Three of us were then sent on an ‘ambulance’ run to assist any refugees who were injured or ill. Due to the camp being labelled an ‘illegal settlement’, ambulances are not allowed to enter. The scenes upon our arrival were truly appalling (see pictures below). Only those with ‘approved documents’ could enter the camp so we remained on the periphery. Although the atmosphere was relatively calm, the presence of hundreds of armed French police created a sense of tension/anxiety. Before our time was up, we received instructions to take two refugees to the train station. They were incredibly calm and very thankful.
The situation in Calais is desperate. Demolishing the camp will not solve the refugee crisis and it’s not meant to. People have fled warzones and poverty in the hope of finding sanctuary in Europe. Western powers are responsible for much of the destruction that has created the crisis.
European governments have cracked down on refugees. This has not stopped people arriving—it has only forced them to take more dangerous routes. But it has encouraged racists and right wingers—who are now demanding even more repression.
Many migrants in Calais want to come to Britain because they have family here or because they speak English. Others don’t want to stay in France because they’ve experienced racism there. Why shouldn’t these people be allowed to come to Britain? There is more than enough room and resources for refugees to be welcomed into Britain.
The UK Government should be doing a lot more to help those in need. Citizens UK estimated that around 200 children have come to Britain from Calais in the past week. But the government has left many more at risk of harm. Political activists, campaign groups, unions and political parties can put immense pressure on the government. We need united action now to ensure refugees are welcomed and to stand up to racism.
by Jon Woollard