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.