22 Jan Donate at HGS to Help the Refugees in Calais
Despite living in tents, with only one meal a day, next to a smelly chemical factory, facing winter temperatures of between -2 and -12, the refugees seemed extremely cheerful and happy to be there. They felt glad to be alive, no longer living with the threat of malnutrition, murderous militias, conscription, genocide, religious persecution and war.
I was very surprised by just how many women and children were there. 5% doesn’t sound much, but 5% of 6000 is 300. They are now housed in portacabins in a compound that is closed to men from dusk to dawn, although some choose to stay in tents to be near their male relatives. It was sad to see men saying goodnight to their children through the wire before heading to their tents in the main camp.
There are many many teenage boys there, between 13 and 18 years old. A huge number of them are ‘unaccompanied’, totally alone. Can you imagine living far from your parents and families at 13 years old?
It was clear to me small-scale British donations have made an enormous difference; all over the camp you can see British people helping. Large vans arrive every day coordinated by Mosques in the north of England – places far away like Birmingham, Leeds and Bradford – with hot meals such as dhal and rice that keep people alive. The Eritrean Coptic community in London are doing all they can to bring food and resources, and help build the beautiful church at the camp. University students from top London universities spend their weekends and holidays there volunteering. Musicians from all over Europe bring music as a show of solidarity. Every day small vans arrive driven by mums like me who just can’t stand to watch the news passively any more and want to do something to help other mums who have found themselves and their children in desperate times.
And it’s not just the British. Local French grannies in their late 70s have been helping the refugees in Calais for over 10 years, running the soup kitchens and giving their time. French students volunteer to monitor police brutality nightly, collecting evidence about harassment and violence towards refugees. The French national football association holds charity football matches in the Stade de France to raise money which goes directly to provide meals for the refugees in Calais. We hear a lot about French far-Right politics, but the French people I met there, young and old, have dedicated their time and energy to helping make this terrible situation better.
In my view, it is our governments that are not pulling their weight, so an important part of helping the refugees is telling our government, through letters to MPs and participation in online petitions, that more should be done.
When I got home, I felt so grateful for living in a house, sleeping in comfy dry bed and having democracy and free speech. I checked my children, who were already in bed when I got home, and felt so glad they were well-fed, warm and safe. We in Europe really have won the world postcode lottery by accident of birth. We are the luckiest people in the world, but it is our responsibility to share that luck and use our enormous resources to make the world a better, fairer place.
I aim to return in February half term, so I am now collecting donations. There is a particular need for camping equipment/blankets/duvets/ sleeping bags now. Please hand any donations you have to your tutor or to me in the English office. Thank you for your support!