During a distribution at an unauthorised camp in Dunkirk, around three or four CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité) vans turned up in convoy. As they parked up and got out of their vans, their presence was there to intimidate us – weapons in hand and all. It seemed overkill since all we were doing was distributing tarpaulin and giving out tea and coffee, as well us setting up a few stalls such as a charging station, a barbershop and a medical service. Nothing radical was happening, yet here we were, facing a line of officers. One of the volunteers at Care4Calais had brought along a big speaker and a refugee plugged in his phone and began to play his music. Some of the refugees formed a line, linking arms and started dancing, inviting us volunteers to join in. I joined in with a few others, forgetting about the imposing officers that stood behind us. I was totally distracted by the smiles spread across the refugees faces, noticing that I was smiling just as big too. A few minutes later, I went back to help at the drink stand and looked back to see that the officers had packed up and left. Their intimidation technique had done quite the opposite. As we were discussing this event later at the Care4Calais warehouse, one volunteer finished off the story by saying ‘love always wins’. And I couldn’t agree more. We pushed the CRS away with our laughter and love, and I only hope this can transpire to those who think the refugees are the violent, intimidating ones.
Choosing to come to Calais was a bit of a last minute decision of mine, I had heard of the organisation through word of mouth. Because I had a week off university, I decided to pack up and just go. Not knowing too much on the current refugee situation, I came with the intent to help and to also learn. I chose to come as well out of pure curiosity, I think that one can’t really base their whole judgement on this situation without seeing it first-hand. I was initially worried that I wasn’t the right person for the work, or that I wasn’t skilled enough. But upon arrival, I was told that no question is a ‘stupid’ question and feeling in a very supportive environment I learned a lot more than what Google search could tell me. Knowing my article will reach those who want to help/volunteer and also those who are opposed to refugees coming to the UK, I decided that I won’t hold back on what I have been told and what I have seen. Giving a chance for anyone who reads this, no matter their stance, to hear what hasn’t been so openly talked about in the media.
I volunteered with Care4Calais for five short days, and it was an extremely eye-opening experience I will truly never forget. Our days started at 9:30 am and usually finished around 5:30 pm, and these days were split into two. In the mornings, we would be given different jobs to prepare for the distribution in the afternoon. Some people would prep the tea and coffee, some would box up donations into different categories of clothing and others would make lunch, move boxes around and make tea for all of us en masse. Since the temperature was quite low, I would turn up to the warehouse with three pairs of socks on and five top layers on and still manage to be cold. But if anything, this made me empathise with the refugees even more so.
After we would have lunch, we would all split up into vans and cars, making our way to an unauthorised camp (in or near to Calais). We would have a short briefing before we left, role-playing how we would give out the donations in order to keep control of the queues. (At first, I thought it was a bit extreme to role-play how we were going to hand donations out – until arriving and seeing 200+ men making their way towards the vans!) As we would arrive at a camp, we would go straight to our assigned jobs and spend the afternoon hanging out and talking with the refugees.
Being so hands on and seeing the direct impact our help was having on those we were helping was something I found really special with this organisation. During the time I volunteered, there were about 20 other volunteers as well, all ranging in age, and all given a job each to help contribute. We were all there for the same reason and there was something very moving about that.
In the camps, I got to listen to stories of where people had come from, the journey they took to get to Calais and what their plans were for the near future. I spoke to a married couple, and the husband said that he had already been in the UK for eight years, awaiting his asylum but he could not stand being away from his wife for so long. So, he chose to go back to his home country and go through the journey and process all again with his wife by his side. I also met a young boy who was fifteen and was travelling alone as he already had relatives living in the UK. He said he had left his home and his mother eight months ago and that the journey had been very difficult. Speaking to another young boy from Iran, he said that his dream was to be a footballer in England, he was a big supporter of Arsenal and was distraught to hear that I supported Ajax and Liverpool. We laughed as we teased each other about which footballers we thought were better. He showed me a video on his phone of him playing football back in Iran and he reminded me a lot of my younger cousin and his love for football. I thought to myself that they would get on well.
As we would pack up for the day and head back to the warehouse, other volunteers would share their stories of the refugees they had talked to. Sometimes some of the stories would leave us with questions which would be answered in the debrief at the end of the day. It was a whole learning experience and I strongly encourage those who want to help, to give up a weekend, or a week or however long you want and to head down to Calais.
My experience with Care4Calais left me with a lot of emotion. To me and I am sure many others, these refugees are just people. But the media does a good job of dehumanising them, to the extent that a lot of UK citizens even fear just their presence. The media quite likes to depict them as ‘alien-like’ reinforcing ‘the west and the rest‘ attitude, as well as allowing for those to see race before they see a person. However, these men, women and children are just like you. They have dreams and ambitions. They want a chance to live a life where they can have the chance to succeed. To live in a safer environment for their children and future generations. It would seem that those living in the UK would want the same if their lives were in danger. No sane person would choose to keep their children in a world where they only know of war and violence. No one would accept to just continue living in a country where what they deserve, is refused. These refugees are coming to have the opportunity to exercise their rights as humans. Rights that are taken for granted in the UK – so much so that you would be willing to deny it to others.
Side note: It is free to volunteer, you just need to pay for accommodation (and food)! Please check out their website, instagram and twitter for more information. Big shoutout to Izzy, Chiara, Lucy, Patrick, Jyoti, Amelia, Kim, Imran, Bex and many more who made my time at C4C so meaningful and enjoyable.
The current situation in Calais might not be talked about as much as it was a couple of years ago, but there are still people who are in need of help, of donations and of support. I didn’t see many young children in the camps, as a lot of them have been put into social housing for the time being. But for now, their lives are on halt as they await their entry to the UK and what is being done to help? Not much. But a lot is being done to prevent their entry.
The information that follows is what I was told by other volunteers and refugees, all of which has been fact checked since.
If you weren’t aware, as of January last year, €50 million of the UK’s taxes has been spent on tightening security at Calais port. Understandably, security is needed in order to have control and to establish various safety measures for the refugees. However, since experiencing the treatment of the refugees at the Calais and Dunkirk ports, it is clear that their safety is not a priority.
The priority is to keep them out, and certain actions have been taken to reduce their attempts to enter the UK. Therefore, these taxes are essentially being spent on making the refugees lives a lot more difficult, but this will not stop them trying to get over the border. Shuttling and dispersing refugees all over France will not work, these refugees have already come far enough that moving them 400 miles away from the border crossing won’t break their determination. Taking away their tents, belongings, shelter and even being violent towards them only masks a much bigger problem. Coming from countries of war, conflict and economic crisis, their perseverance is stronger than ever. Especially when the UK is just a short distance away. This tax money could be spent more efficiently, such as putting it towards helping integrate young refugees who have already entered the UK.
Some refugees I met expressed their upset and frustration with the CRS – the general reserve of the National Police Force (the same riot police in Paris that are seen to be fighting against the protesters). The CRS often come into the camps pepper-spraying refugees eyes, ripping up tents and taking away their belongings. However, organisations like Care4Calais will redistribute all that has been taken or damaged to the refugees and this is a vicious, counterproductive cycle. Because even if more officers are brought in and the violence and force is increased, there will still be refugees coming to the Calais border. The problem is that this kind of police force and brutality is not working and that is what €50 million of UK citizens taxes are being spent on.
Lord Dubs Amendment
This is incredibly hard for me to write about without getting too subjective and angry. I will start by explaining the ‘Dubs Amendment.’ Alfred Dubs is a member of the House of Lords and was born in Prague in 1932. At six years old, he was a Jewish refugee fleeing from the Nazis on the Kindertransport which took him to England to meet with his father. His father had already sought asylum in England and Alfred was able to be reunited with him safely. Since then, Lord Dubs has been an activist for helping refugee children safely cross the border into the United Kingdom.
In 2016, the Dubs Amendment was established to help lone refugee children come to England safely, as well as being reunited with relatives already in the country. During the general election in December 2019, Boris Johnson agreed to retain the amendment in the Brexit Withdrawal Bill, however, after winning the election – Johnson went back on this agreement. All conservative MPs backed Johnson’s move by voting to discard Lord Dub’s amendment in the Bill. In an interview the day before Brexit, Lord Dubs exclaimed that the children have been “let down” and “betrayed”.
“Now I think they’ve been let down and betrayed. Once there is a signal from the Government that they don’t support this anymore, people feel there is no alternative but to go with a traffickers and cross illegally: very dangerous and very disappointing.”Lord Dubs Interview
The London Economic
Again, this won’t stop refugee children entering the UK, instead, they will be entering in much more dangerous ways. Including trafficking. These are innocent children and are being denied help by some of the most powerful people in UK politics. This says a lot about who we are as a nation. A nation that can offer safety and stability for these children who have already travelled so far and are in need of our support. This is a nation that fails to meet the bare minimum when doing this. If you can believe that this is a ‘United Kingdom’ then I think people need to actually come together, with compassion to spare. These children are not coming to ‘steal your jobs’. These children have rights. What kind of person do you have to be if you especially see race and stereotypes before seeing a helpless child?
“I believe that the way we treat the most vulnerable people is a test of who we are, what kind of country we hope to live in and what humanity we have. Britain has a proud tradition of humanity and hospitality towards child refugees, myself included, so although our campaign suffered a setback this week, it is not over. The next challenge will be fought over the next few months. Children are counting on us to win it.”Lord Dubs
The Big Issue
At this point, I am deeply ashamed of my Prime Minister and my government and I call on each Conservative MP who voted down on protecting these children, to produce a statement, explaining their reasoning with this immoral decision. Here is the full list of Conservative MPS who voted against the amendment.
Thank you for taking the time and getting to the bottom of this lengthy article! I tried shortening it many times but I felt that everything I had written needed to be said. If you have any further questions about volunteering or what I have discussed, please either reply in the comment section or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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