Fizzy arrives in Calais!

#RelayForRefugees helps provide a van for volunteers on the ground in Calais!

This past week, we received some great news from the Collective Aid team in Calais…

Through our fundraising endeavours, a new van has been part funded by MRA enabling the volunteers to continue on helping refugees along the Northern France coast.

Here’s what they said…

Look how excited we are about this van! We have named her Fizzy as she was delivered with a bottle of bubbly!🍾 A huge thank you to @marlowrefugee & @chooselove for jointly funding a new distribution vehicle for our work in Calais. Our vans are some of the most valuable resources we have – they are absolutely essential for all the work we do.

We are so grateful for all of the support we receive from incredible organisations like Help Refugees & Marlow Refugee Action, not forgetting all of our individual supporters like YOU!

Big love, ❤️

Team Collective Aid

It’s great to see the accumulation of everyone’s hard work through Refugee Week 2020, so well done and thank you again for all who got involved.

Refugee Week 2020 – Update

MRAG word cloud

As Refugee Week 2020 draws to a close, everyone at Marlow Refugee Action would like to say a massive THANK YOU to all who got involved!

With the dust now settling on Refugee Week 2020, we can look back on a week of mass involvement and campaigning by all which will enable us to continue helping people displaced by conflict and war.

Through your efforts we collectively raised public awareness of the plight of Refugees across the globe as well as a phenomenal amount through your generous donations; the proceeds of which will go directly to those most in need in the UK, Calais and Samos.

Across Relay 4 Refugees, Solidarity Sleepout and our Syrian Supper Night In, you helped us exceed all of our targets and raise a total of £1985!

Breaking the fundraising down across our the campaigns, the figures are as follows:

Relay 4 Refugees – £770
Solidarity Sleepout  – £385
Syrian Supper Night In –  £539
Plant Stall – £291

For those who missed out on the live demonstration, provided by the wonderful Imad for the Syrian Supper Night In, don’t worry, there’s still a chance to try these original recipes yourself!

A recording of the stream can be found via this link and the recipe for Tahiniat Beitenjan has kindly been made downloadable here as a PDF so you can continue the cooking at home.

Keep an eye across our various channels for more videos and updates on the impact of your donations and to see what’s next for Marlow Refugee Action.

Once again, thank you all for your contributions and participation, together we’ve made a real impact on the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves.

Imad’s Syrian Supper Night In

Friday 19th June sees us continue our Refugee Week events in the form of a live Syrian Supper Night In courtesy of Imad.

As part of Marlow Refugee Action’s Refugee Week 2020 campaigns, this Friday sees the return of the much loved Imad’s Syrian Kitchen with a socially distanced twist.

If you’ve been missing our wonderful feasts as much as we have, we’d love for you to join us live on our Facebook page at 18:30 for a live demonstration and cook along to satisfy your restaurant cravings in the comfort and safety of your own home.

Please find the list of the delightful ingredients you’ll need for our two delicious recipes below…

All we ask for in exchange is for you to donate the cost of a meal out to our Marlow Refugee Action page to help us continue to support vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers whose situation has become even more challenging as a result of Covid-19.

See you tomorrow!

A New Frontier

Yet another story of a Marlow resident making a difference on the front line has come to our attention, James Perry shares his story from Northern Greece

After graduating from university I found myself at a loose-end but was keen to travel abroad and teach a skill to those that needed it the most.

That’s how I ending up gaining an education certification and started teaching English to refugees that had to flee their homes in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Turning my sights overseas, I went to Greece and started working for a grassroots NGO called Second Tree. Second Tree works in two camps and one urban area reaching over 2,500 refugees through their three programmes:

1) language learning – teaching both English and Greek classes to adults
2) youth education & well-being – through a scout-themed education program for children and teenagers
3)  integration of refugees into local life – through community building activities. 

Second Tree created a scouts themed education program because older children and teenagers are often an overlooked group. Younger children, even newborns, often have many services available for them; but the older children are the ones that realise they are refugees, the ones that had a life back home in Syria or Iraq, before their home stopped existing under the bombs…

I remember on my first scout excursion (we have an excursion every weekend for the children that come to school during the week), we went to the local forest and as we sat down for our mid-walk snack, I realised that Habibia, one of the scouts, had some scars, which were clearly the result of self harming. 

We all remember the emotional strain of what it’s like to be a teenager, but we can only imagine what this feels like with the extra baggage of fleeing your country from war and leaving your friends, family and home behind, some of whom have died in the meantime.

My first thought was to try to move the discussion away from it, and try to make her smile so that she could forget about her everyday struggles back in camp. 

I was very surprised when Lucas, one of the longest serving volunteers, asked Habiba in front of the other scouts ‘Why do you do that?’. She explained she was suffering and said that she self harmed to relieve the pain in her heart.

It may not have been easy to hear, but I realised in that moment how much trust Habiba placed in the other scouts and the volunteers, and how valuable it is that they created a space where it is comfortable to open up. It shocked me how human this interaction was and I quickly learnt to treat refugees as people rather than victims.

This non-patronising mindset fostered at Second Tree is one of the reasons why despite only planning to be in Greece for 2 months, I’ve been back twice, and I’ll go back once again as soon as the Coronavirus emergency is over.

“Despite only planning to be in Greece for 2 months, I’ve been back twice, and I’ll go back once again”

On the same excursion, an Iranian boy called Iman hit a Syrian girl named Saida making her cry. Again, we all sat down at the end and Lucas asked him ‘How does it feel to make Saida cry?’ and with a big grin on his face Iman told everyone that it made him happy to see girls cry.

Many times the children that join our youth program come from countries where gender stereotypes are really strong, and at Second Tree we try to challenge these conception with workshops on gender equality, and in general with being open to discuss things with the children, who will eventually grow up in a different society from the one they were born into.

The success is astonishing. 52% of the children participating in the scouts programme are girls, which is quite remarkable for a program that focuses on encouraging self expression, strengthening leadership skills and challenging traditional views of gender roles.

This is evident also in the evolution of the very same children: I’ve known Iman for more than a year now, and he now gets very embarrassed when I remind him of that story with Saida! Recently I had a conversation with Habiba and I asked her if she thinks Iman still treats her differently because she’s a girl. She replied ‘I’m the same as a boy so of course he treats me the same and also he trusts me’.

Latest from Samos

Marlow Refugee Action caught up with volunteer Jasmine Doust for the latest on the situation at Samos Legal Centre…

Like the rest of the world, the threat of COVID-19 has left it’s mark on Samos, exacerbating the already hectic situation.

Yet the work continues for the Samos Volunteers and we are actively engaging with relevant agencies to ensure those at the highest risk are catered for in this crisis.

The UN is being cooperative in prioritising the elderly and seriously ill for accommodation or transfer and discussions are continuing in relation to evaluating the possibility of carrying on requests for interim measures at the European Court of Human Rights when relevant.

Communication is regular with the Dublin Unit in Athens and NGOs abroad regarding family reunification procedures, mostly concerning unaccompanied children and the team continues informing beneficiaries on the current asylum procedure situation in Greece through whatsapp broadcasts (producing our own info tools and translations).

Whatsapp has also been vital in sharing information informing beneficiaries on the current measures against covid-19 in Greece and communicating with other NGOs as a monitoring actor for the legal situation in Samos.

Sadly though, in line with all we’ve heard from Avocats sans Frontières. the reality is that all asylum applications are suspended at least until the beginning of April and new arrivals are held in detention, without receiving legal aid.

All interviews with the relevant authorities have been cancelled whilst access to the camp has also been restricted. This in part is down to the fact that the population of both the camp and the rest of the island includes many elderly and vulnerable people who would be highly susceptible should the COVID-19 epidemic take hold.

ASF have also taken the difficult decision to repatriate volunteers and will not deploy anybody, even from mainland Greece, in the upcoming weeks.

AND YET! Despite all the usual chaos being made even harder by the threat of the virus taking hold, there is some light and positive news.

We got a request for interim measures accepted by the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of a pregnant woman (9 months) who has to be transferred to a decent accommodation and granted appropriate healthcare and Austria have accepted a family reunification for an elderly couple from Afghanistan.

The husband is in Samos and obviously would be at high risk in case of outbreak but he applied with our counsellors in late January to be reunified with his wife who’s already a refugee in Austria and we’ve had a success.

Coronavirus & Calais

Dom Ford sent the following update to Marlow Refugee Action from Calais, detailing exactly how the global pandemic has impacted their everyday

On Sunday the 15th of April I heard a rumour that one of the migrants in the Dunkirk camp had Coronavirus.

The close quarter living conditions, the lack of any suitable washing facilities, and the poor nutrition coupled with inadequate shelter means that if one person in the camp caught the virus, it would be a mater of days before everyone had it, with deadly consequences. All the organisations panicked, and scrambled to find the truth.

Fortunately, the rumour turned out to be just that, however we HAD learnt our lesson and all the organisations sat down the next day to decide how best to respond.

The response, although it differed between organisations, was broadly the same; scale back operations, promote social distancing in the camps, and limit contact with each other, migrants, and frequently touched surfaces.

Lifts to the hospital, deliveries of firewood, provision of clothes and shoes, education and play sessions with the children, even the salad that accompanied the Refugee Community Kitchen’s daily meals all ceased.

Collective Aid now only went out of the warehouse to provide tents, sleeping bags, and one hour of phone charging (half our normal time). With organisations and borders seemingly shutting everywhere, volunteers all over Calais started to head back to the UK, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, Italy, even Australia.

Those who remained, me included, started to fill out and carry around forms in our passports to avoid a 140 euro fine. Currently, for each day we now need to have one to go to the shops, one to go to work, a different one to be at work, another one to head back from work, and a final one to do exercise.

As hard as it has been for us, it has been harder for the people we support. The daily evictions have continued, only now the police wear face masks and disposable gloves whilst taking tents and blankets.

Refugee Community Kitchen ceased operations completely yesterday, leaving 1500 people without a hot meal. The men in the camps have stopped shaking hands, and have started to tap elbows with each other. Some of the children have started an elaborate foot dance as a greeting. There is now absolutely nothing for these people to do during the day, and it’s simply a matter of time before the virus is spread to them, despite all of our efforts to prevent it.

Whilst providing phone charge at one site I tried to explain to a man how we couldn’t give him new shoes, as it would increase the chance of him catching Corona. He spoke to me in perfect English, asking if we still give out tents and sleeping bags. Yes, I said. He then pointed at the generator and looked at me. “You still come here”. Yes, I said, again. “You can give me a tent but not shoes”. Yes, I said for a third time, feeling sheepish and stupid, knowing what he was going to say next. “So I can still catch Corona from you?” 

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen spring 2020

In collaboration with Coopers, Marlow Refugee Action are bringing Imad’s Syrian Kitchen popup experience to Marlow again this spring. The meal is a mezze of 8 to 10 starters followed by 3 main courses and a dessert. Cooper’s bar will be selling wine and beer to accompany the meal. One of the evenings will be a special Vegan Supper.

Tickets are £40 which includes a £15 donation to Marlow Refugee Action. Tickets are now on sale HERE

  • Vegan Supper 28th February 2020
  • 6th March 2020
  • 13th March 2020

About Imad

Imad Alarnab is a chef and restaurateur from Damascus who was forced to leave and seek asylum in the UK. He left behind a successful business including several restaurants and juice bars.

Read more about Imad and his kitchen in the Guardian and the Evening Standard or listen to the interview with Imad on Marlow FM

“Les frontières tuent” – latest from Dom in Calais

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.

An update from Calais

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.

One of the informal woodland sites

New manager for Calais Warehouse

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!

FIRST IMPRESSIONS:

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.

The new warehouse

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. 

New volunteers in Calais, including Dom!

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.