A helping hand from Lambeth to Calais’s refugees
Volunteers from the borough travelled to France last month in an effort to help migrants enduring squalid conditions as they try to reach the UK.
Activists went with coats donated through charities and churches by Lambeth residents as temperatures plunged. Several hundred migrants remain in makeshift settlements, even though French authorities dismantled the notorious Jungle camp in 2016.
The trip was organised as part of the #Coats4Calais donation drive by the charity Care4Calais.
David Stephenson, the vicar of All Saints Church in West Dulwich, is involved with the group and has been on previous visits. He said: “There are many, many people still travelling to the border in search of a safer future for themselves and their families. And the level of suffering is greater now because they’ve no place to stay.”
Care4Calais continues to accept donations for future trips. Visit care4calais.org to find out more.
Commentary by Flora Bradley-Watson
Few people in the United Kingdom realise that hundreds of young men are living in a hopeless limbo on Britain’s doorstep. The camp that had been dubbed ‘The Jungle’ was demolished more than a year ago, but the migrants have not simply gone away. There are currently a thousand refugees sleeping rough in Calais and Dunkirk, another five hundred in Brussels and more than fifteen hundred in Paris. They have no access to basic sanitation, no shelter at night and no regular food supply.
I joined one of the previous trips organised by Care4Calais and was shocked by the apparent hopelessness of the situation. Whatever your politics, the humanitarian need is great and immediate. The police have tried to adopt a policy of deterrence, which has resulted in Human Rights Watch accusing them of using systematic violence in an attempt to prevent migrants from re-establishing a camp in Calais or its environs.
The migrants told us how their belongings were either confiscated or destroyed every night by the police. It’s left to the volunteers to bridge the gap and do the work of two governments.
“Tonight the police will take this off us, they take everything,” one Afghan told me. “It’s us versus the police, what can we do? Every night we will try to get on the lorries.”
Most of the men in Calais are barely over the age of twenty-one, some much younger. They’ve come from Afghanistan, Sudan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Chad. They’re united by their desire to get into the United Kingdom, where they say they have family and can speak the language. They will not stop trying: it’s only human not to stop striving for a better life.
You can donate to the appeal at mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/coats4calais or drop off donations at All Saints Church in West Dulwich. What’s needed are coats, sleeping bags, unlocked mobile phones, chargers, wind-up torches, toiletries, socks, gloves, scarves, trainers, shoes, jogging bottoms, tinned food and dried fruit and nuts.