Dom’s latest update from Calais is a tough read and we send him our love and support for the work he is doing. ‘Les frontières tuent’ roughly translates to ‘Borders Kill’
Following the deaths of two Kurdish men trying to reach the UK, a memorial was held on the 7thNovember in Calais. About 50 people gathered, with a mixture of international volunteers, refugees, and locals. After a short silence we listened to several impassioned speeches – all whilst being looked on by 6 police officers. Towards the end, the mayor’s right hand man appeared, and stood behind the police officers (the local political office in Calais is held by the right wing republican party). Towards the end of the speeches, the atmosphere turned more political, and before long a debate had broken out over the lack of support from the French government between the locals and the mayor’s representative. I was able to contribute little, as it turns out my French is rustier than I thought!
Elsewhere, preparations are being made for the coming winter, including storing sleeping bags and tents, whilst converting half a warehouse into a woodyard. As it is pretty much constantly raining, all the wood is permanently wet, leading many refugees to resort to plastic instead. Simply walking past the camps, you can smell the poisonous fumes. Last week, a man in a Calais camp started a small fire in his tent to stay warm. He died of carbon monoxide during the night.
Two days ago, when we arrived at our warehouse in the morning, we found a police van sitting outside, simply watching us. Previously, they have driven onto the private property and refused to leave. Evictions are happening on a near daily basis, whilst tents, tarps, blankets, and clothes are all regularly being taken. Volunteers try to observe such events but have been told to move by police, pretty much immediately in the last few days. With each day, the situation worsens.
Dom Ford sends us his third update from Calais and this time as warehouse manager. Dom is volunteering for Collective Aid (CA) and manages a warehouse that coordinates and holds stocks of Non-Food Items/Core Relief Items, for 5 other NGOs, providing support for around 2000 refugees in the Calais area. Dom’s update also sees him put his field training to good use as he goes on his first distribution run.
The past few weeks in Calais
A small group of refugees, somewhere between 60-90, live underneath a motorway bridge. In the past, the police have come to raid their belongings, stealing or slashing their tents, denying them even basic shelter. In response, we have set up a tent collection strategy – we know which days the police come so we simply drive in there, pick up their tents, wait a few hours and then redistribute them again. I helped redistribute these tents, but only saw somewhere around 15 small two or three-man tents, suggesting that many are left without shelter, or crammed in tents designed for a 16 year old to just about survive in during Reading festival. With temperatures falling and the weather worsening, we started distributing tents to all the sites in Calais. Some refugees have been living with five people in a two-man pop-up tent, so there is a large demand. However, the main fear is not the approaching winter months, but the police, for both refugees and volunteers alike. Many fear that all these tents that have been distributed in the past few days will immediately be seized or cut by the police, putting us back where we started, only this time without any form of providing shelter. Harassment is regular, not just verbal but also physical. A 20 year old volunteer was picked up by the neck a week ago and her friend who recorded entire incident had his phone taken from him. The police deleted every video they could find. Reports were filed, but the view from the team is that nothing will come from it. In the past, volunteers have even been teargassed and although this has not happened for several months, we have received training on how to respond to dangerous situations that can break out at a moment’s notice, but no amount of training can prepared you for everything. It’s hard to respect the police when they don’t even follow the laws they’re meant to be enforcing.
Dom Ford/Marlow Volunteer has sent us his second update and since writing, it has been confirmed that he will be taking over next week as the warehouse manager in Calais. So we are sending him our good wishes for the challenges that we are sure will lie ahead, and look forward to more news from Calais in due course!
A lot has changed since my last update!! After talking to Collective Aid (CA), one of a few organisations providing support in the Balkans, I decided to volunteer with them, but little did I know they were also operating in Calais, and had just taken over a warehouse that coordinated and held stocks of Non-Food Items (NFIs) for around 5 other NGOs. In total, they were providing support for somewhere around 2000 refugees in the Calais area.
They replied and asked if I would be able to help in the warehouse in Calais instead. I jumped on a ferry on Monday, arriving at 4.30 and got thrown straight into the action, working until something like 9.30. Exhausted, I managed to make it to my bed and passed out. The next morning saw my first ‘real’ day. Not only had CA just taken over a warehouse, they were also planning on moving warehouses in the next few weeks!!
Information has been flying thick and fast, from all directions over the past 2 days as I learned how to start managing a warehouse, but it wasnt just talking. I’ve been sorting through clothes and tents, dismantling old sorting systems, helping to fix motorbikes, deciding how to get rid of a stray cat, all in about an hour. To say it’s been non-stop would be an understatement.
The community of volunteers themselves is overwhelming – there isn’t a bad bone in sight, and everyone is really friendly, welcoming, and supportive. I managed to do field training today, allowing me to go on distribution runs themselves, but that’s for the future. Right now, as I’m writing this, I’m preparing myself for another long day in the warehouse tomorrow.
One of our trustees – Tom Doust – is currently in Athens, spending a couple of months teaching English at a refugee project called Ankaa. We are so fortunate as a charity to have volunteers who are prepared to help at the business end of the refugee crisis, and to send us reports about the realities of the situation there.
Tom is writing a blog about his experiences – linked here TOMINGREECE
Let me introduce you to Dom Ford: an ex-Borlase pupil who has recently finished a masters in Logistics at Cardiff University. Dom approached us with an interest in volunteering to help with humanitarian aid for refugees. We were able to introduce him to several possible volunteer groups across Europe. Dom has promised to keep us up to date with his experiences, and to let us know how we as a community may help and support the work he will be doing. This is his first blog …..
Where to go?
Just over a year ago, I decided that I wanted to build a career in humanitarian aid. I went back to university, studying a masters in logistics and operations management, and finished a fortnight ago. With not many paid opportunities in humanitarian aid, I accepted that I would have to volunteer with NGOs. The only question was, where?
I was first put in contact with Samos Volunteers through Marlow Refugee Action, but then I began to learn more. CESRT operates on Chios, responding 24/7 to all landings on the eastern shore of the island. The Refugee Community Kitchen makes somewhere between 1500 and 2500 meals a day to serve to refugees in Calais. In Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is only one NGO left providing support to both countries – the rest have been evicted by the governments. There are hundreds of NGOs operating all across Europe, all providing different services, but the end result is all the same; to help those that need it the most, who have been let down by everyone else, who have been failed by those that can help but have chosen not to.
I’m writing this in Marlow, two thousand miles away from Samos. I look at my window and don’t see how I could be further away from the crisis. Have I decided where and how to help? Not yet, but I know I will.