Calais: Report of trip 9-11 March 2019
“It’s a bit of a worrying time, with news coming in that the police are planning a big raid, but remember to be nice to everybody you’re working with”. This was the gist of the morning briefing yesterday, Monday, with the upcoming and threatening clearing of temporary outdoor areas of shelter for migrants in and around Calais. The police typically surround the encampment, move all migrants out of the area, slash tents and confiscate anything left on the ground. In a big raid, they also herd folks into buses and drive them away, supposedly to accommodation centres around France. However, the police have been known to drive them around all day, then drop them in the middle of nowhere!
The 90 minute ferry delay provided a grand opportunity to acquaint ourselves with our fellow travellers. We took four students from the University of Kent with us and were impressed with their aspirations and insights, and that they choose out-of-class activities which align with their values. They were all well aware of how their privileged lives play out and all want to make a difference in the world. A family of four plus one student also accompanied us. The delay also provided a chance for us to tell everyone what to expect.
Upon arrival at the warehouse, we were given a tour, lunch, then a visit to Le Local, a new day centre for migrants and asylum-seekers in Calais. Utopia 56, the French charity in the warehouse, plans to open it five days/week for legal information and advice, psychological counselling, French and English conversation, emotional support and arts/crafts activities. You may be wondering if it will escape the standard police aggression! The premises are being let by a sympathetic landlord and are on the former site of other refugee-related services, who gifted Utopia 56 their outstanding rent payments. The day centre has a reception area, several rooms with tables, chairs and sofas, a library area with books in various languages, a kitchen and small rooms for consultations. Brian and Anne Kendall’s bequest of £2,000 will pay for a month’s running costs. We would like, after that and after the centre is totally operational, to ask EKAM Friends for another one month’s running costs.
I spoke with two of the young women who run the Refugee Women’s Centre in Dunkerque, although they are now based for their storage needs at the warehouse in Calais. They are concerned that women, children and young families will become ‘homeless’ at the end of March, since they have only been housed in former, disused hotels, hostels and camps (with dorms and some separate rooms, an improvement) for the six months of winter. Young men have been housed for this period in gymnasiums. Although they take activities to do with these folk six days/week, they had not been out on the previous day because of an incident involving the safety of volunteers. The Refugee Women’s Centre will be the recipient of Canterbury Local Meeting’s June appeal. They are working on a solution to extend the present level of accommodation.
I worked in Sew-Ho again, along with Kat, a long-term volunteer supervisor, repairing sleeping bags with Velcro or sewing in new zips, and repairing blankets and jackets, to render more donations usable. Kat has set up a WhatsApp group for Sew-Ho, with the various young women who supervise for a few months at a time, Anne (a London Quaker woman who volunteers about once a month there), myself and any other volunteers involved in this department, in order to keep volunteers informed about the on-going sewing machine issues like bringing machines back to Kent for servicing. We also talked about the benefits of corporate memory via this method, so that supervisors have some knowledge of what has been tried in the past and volunteers know what to bring or how to help from afar. It seems that, after volunteering regularly for about two years, both Robin and I now have relationships with some of the long-term volunteers at the warehouse, which was our hope and which feels both satisfying and productive for all.
A new group, Project Play, travels to various locations within an hour or so, taking activities and toys for the under-fives, with each town being serviced about twice each week. The young woman with whom I travelled in November, planning to stay three months and now out there until September, is involved in Human Rights watches under the UN.
The students accompanying us couldn’t wait to roll their sleeves up and get to work. Already, one had decided to return to volunteer for the month of April at the warehouse and another had expressed interest in becoming involved with football plans, having recently refereed a game between the University of Kent and Kent Refugee Action Network (KRAN). This is most heartening and is due, in part at least, to being able to provide a free, accompanied trip out for them. Following are testimonials from some:
Hi! My name is Dize and I came from Cyprus to study my master’s degree in University of Kent. As a social psychologist candidate I have always interested to study about minority groups. When I heard that there is a project trip to Calais, Jungle Camp, I became so intrigued about it and after the documentary about jungle camp I straightforwardly signed myself up. When we arrived there, the guide showed us all the places where the volunteers work for refugees such as how to set up tends, woodland, painting etc. She also explained us that they need translators for many languages such as Kurdish. Furthermore, she told us that what they create in warehouse is mainly from their own pocket and they need governmental help. Because the warehouse needs a lot of money in order to cater for many resources for refugees. Afterwards, our trip organisers and the three head volunteers in warehouse took us to a place called as “Le Local”. There they showed us that refugees come here to play games and study. There were many books in French, Arabic and English. It seemed like this place also provides opportunity to improve their foreign languages. Moreover, the volunteers mentioned that when they walk around in the city to find new refugees when they first arrive in the night or any day, they take them there to meet up their own needs. When me and my friends returned to warehouse, we all got divided and went to different working areas. Me, myself went to woodland area to hammer the blocks. It was very fun. I felt so lucky that I contributed for refugees and the volunteer people in order to set up something. People there are really lovely. I suggest everyone to visit that area one day. The most important take-away message for me was even though I am a fierce minority groups supporter, I became much more experienced in that situation. Because I experienced it by myself by working there and helping out to people. I emphasised with them and the refugees a lot. It improved my feelings, my knowledge and anything about me. I could say that there is no guarantee in this world. We can suddenly lose our families, friends, education and the things we have. Anyone could end up being a refugee and wanted to seek a safe life in a different country. We should not discriminate against any people who are not local. We should rather embrace diversity and build harmony. We should never lose our sensations to understand why people emigrate.
Best wishes, Dize
I had such an enriching time learning about the processes the sheer amount of work which was needed in order to aid the refugee crisis. It has opened my eyes to how truly grateful I am to be in the position I am in. I will be going back to the refugee youth service in April to film a short documentary to shed some awareness to the outside world, especially university students and hopefully generate more attention to the great cause.
A big thank you for all the effort you went to yesterday with the Calais Trip. It was a thought provoking and challenging insight into the lives and efforts of others. It also inspired us, and we will think now about how we can contribute.
Please thank Wendy, although I’m sure we’ll see her at the Quakers.
Please keep us posted and we look forward to seeing you at Quakers and hopefully continue to support your work.
Thanks again, Chris et al.
Each time I go to Calais I look forward to further venturing outside my comfort zone. This is not always comfortable but it is often liberating. Someone once said “People wish to be ‘settled’ but it is only as far as they are unsettled that there is any hope for them!”
One day I went to the wood yard, a vital part of the life support system that consists of at least eight charities. Lorry loads of scrap timber are converted on a production line of ‘chop saws’, then weighed, bagged and taken to the rough living/sleeping migrants. Without this service hypothermia would be more common. I helped on a ‘chain gang’ of three young girls and one bloke stacking bags into a van. The girls were strong and motivated – they had to be, as some had been doing this for several weeks! Compared to the girls I soon tired, and I had an ulterior motive – I had reserved a large plank of wood in the yard that will make a fine bench top and bartered my puny efforts on the chain gang for their help in moving the plank. Oona, a young lass from Dublin, was about to lift the plank single-handed, but to preserve some male pride I insisted on helping. Next time in Calais I hope to use this plank along with a superb vice (part of Brian Kendal’s bequest) to assemble a work bench.
Perhaps the best part was going with four plus one visionary students from Student Action for Refugees at the University of Kent, and one from Canterbury Christchurch University, and also the Kidd family with children: eight-year-old Harry and eleven-year-old Poppy. This was slightly under the radar as the official age is 18 years. However tacit approval was given, once they ‘qualified’ by being able to sit in silence for the full hour of a Quaker Meeting for Worship. This was the first visit to Calais by the family and students, and shows the value of the season ticket generously provided by EKAM. One result is that we hear of ideas to go again to support the work and to stay longer.
On a day trip, with delays on the ferry it was not possible to see any migrants, but simply to see the scale of the warehouses that supply the massive and continuing needs will have told its own story.
Many thanks to everyone for the kind donations that we were able to take.
The Salvation Army, Whitehorse Lane, Canterbury (open between 10:00 and 14:00) is a collection point for donations.
Our next visit to Calais will most likely be during the week beginning 10 June 2019.