On Sunday 11 February DPAC members from South London joined a Stand Up to Racism delegation to Calais to deliver donations to Care4Calais and to assist in their work supporting refugees still trapped in Northern France.
Setting off with a car full of items including coats, sleeping bags and cereal bars collected by DPAC members Sabina and Ellen at Brixton’s 336 building, and by South East London Stand Up to Racism at a weekly stall, the delegation was waved off by Paula Peters.
After a smooth journey down the motorway to Dover the DPAC delegation joined others from Stand Up to Racism on board the ferry. Once in France we quickly arrived at the Care4Calais warehouse where we delivered our car full of items before helping to unload the last few vans and cars delivering donations on the day. As well as our DPAC group there were lots of teachers, students, university and college staff, a delegation from a mosque, and a newly elected Labour councillor from Haringey who had come with his local Stand Up to Racism group.
Later in the afternoon we joined a team driving out from the warehouse to deliver aid to a group of refugees from Afghanistan who sleep under a motorway bridge without basic shelter. The area is extremely exposed with a biting icy wind in winter and no clean drinking water. The French police remove tents and sleeping bags so it was great to be able to go out and give them basic provisions for survival. While we were there an elderly local man arrived in a car to take one of the refugees who was sick away for medical treatment. The man is part of a local group of pensioners attached to the Catholic church who are determinedly protecting the refugees and helping save their lives regardless of the vitriol and hatred they are exposed to as a result from the National Front who have control of Calais council. It was clear that many of the refugees are disabled and have mental health support needs, as anyone living under those conditions would. We also heard stories about how their families had been killed by the Taliban and they could not return to Afghanistan.
Keith, a DPAC member, who joined the delegation reports: “At first I was very apprehensive about going to Calais. I did not know what to expect or what I would see. As you can imagine it was not good. We passed the Jungle. It was surrounded by razor wire and fencing which cost £4,000,000. Even though it (the jungle camp) has now been demolished, the size of it took my breath away. When we arrived at the refugee camp I was shocked. At least 30 men, all from Afghanistan, huddled around a little fire trying to keep warm. We had a generator so they could charge their mobile phones and this is their only communication back home. You here people saying refugees can’t be struggling because they have mobile phones, but they were donated and were at least 10 year old phones. As we opened the back of the van to hand out parcels with warm clothing in Wazim who speaks the best English told them all to form a queue. They did without fuss. When Wazim approached he noticed my hat, which if you know me is my favourite one. Something in that instant happened. I gave him it; he immediately hugged me like I had given him a million pounds. Twice he tried to give it back, but I would not accept. Once we finished handing out parcels we were urged to talk to the refugees. The stories were just horrendous, the police don’t leave them alone. Spray CS gas on sleeping bags. Put out their fires. I will never forget this trip. I will never forget Wazim. Look at the photo, I look content. Wazim is a Calais refugee, but he is also a survivor. Thank you Care4Calais for all you do. Solidarity 4 ever.”
The day ended with a reception where volunteers and refugees gathered. We heard from Clare Moseley from Care4Calais who talked about how the British government had been complicit in perpetuating the suffering of the refugees. Mark from our delegation handed over a collection of over £600 raised by South East London Stand Up to Racism.
Refugees at the event told us their stories and their hopes for the future. This was followed by a showing of the award winning film by Sue Clayton “Calais Children: A case to answer” that looks at the experience of unaccompanied children who have been left trapped by the government’s failure to implement the Dubs amendment.
We returned to Britain determined both to spread the word about the conditions facing refugees and to return to Calais with more donations and a larger delegation.
If you would be interested in joining the next DPAC delegation to Calais or organising a collection for it please contact: email@example.com
(Please note – due to conditions in Calais it may not be possible for people with some impairments to join the delegation. We are looking at accessibility solutions to allow as many people as possible who want to go to join future trips. Please get in touch to discuss your support needs if you would like to go but are unsure about anything.)
For more info on Stand Up To Racism and Care4Calais visit: