I often volunteer with our partner organisations in Europe to stay in close contact and ensure we’re always providing help how,when and where it’s most needed.
For the weekend of 8/9 September in Calais and Dunkirk I was very happy to be joined by charity Ambassador, composer and jazz saxophonist, Trish Clowes, and good friend of Donate4Refugees, London Story Teller, Andy Copps.
Navigating the Calais EuroTunnel terminal, I felt ashamed that just 140 miles south of my home, the UK border in Calais is a near-impenetrable fortress of fences, barbed wire and wall. A sorry vision of UK tax payers’ £150m investment in stopping asylum seekers from legally reaching UK soil, at any price.
Twenty minutes later we arrived at L’Auberge Warehouse where much more inspiring activities happen. Humanitarian organisations including Help Refugees, L’Aurberge des Migrants, Refugee Community Kitchen, Calais Laundry, and more have their base in this huge, shared warehouse. And Refugee Youth Service, the Dunkirk Womens Centre, Refugee Info Bus and others, frequent and store aid.
Long-term volunteer, Grainne, kindly showed us around, including the brilliant Calais Laundry. Housed in a brightly-painted portocabin next to the main warehouse full of washing machines and tumble dryers spinning with aid.
Reduce, reuse, recycle. Perfect.
And also the Refugee Info Bus providing mobile translations, local and asylum information centre to help displaced people in the area understand their rights and locate the help they need.
And the shiny, highly professional Refugee Community Kitchen (RCK)… which I’ll come back to.
After a delicious RCK lunch, we went to meet Charlie and Jed of Mobile Refugee Support (MRS) and Thomas of Roots who support in Dunkirk. Only the Thursday before, Dunkirk had experienced yet another police eviction.
MRS and Roots go to the Grande-Synthe site, near Dunkirk, every day. In the past few weeks it has migrated over a large area as forced police evictions move displaced homeless people to be displaced and homeless in a new field in a cat and mouse game with no winners and no end. These volunteers are out here to provide mobile phone charging, battery packs and other technical help. But the situation has gotten so bad recently that they’re also distributing more conventional aid like tents and sleeping bags, clothes and shoes, when they can. There’s never enough.
I parked the car in a side car park and we got out, walking past two CRS (France’s special forces riot police) vans parked up on the left. A couple of officers swinging guns and gas cannisters. Their intimidation tactics on full display, but not for our benefit… it’s like this every day. We walked past, smiling and saying bonjour and carried on to the more friendly crowd ahead. Charlie estimated about 400 male refugees (the women, children and families having been taken elsewhere in Thursday’s clearances) milling around in the fresh autumn chill with little to do. Everywhere we heard “Charlie. Good man. Good man.” He’s clearly a favourite around here.
Trish, Andy and I mostly just chatted to people.
On Sunday morning we volunteered with the amazing Refugee Community Kitchen back in Calais. In 2017 the hostile right-wing Mayor of Calais attempted to close RCK down for not meeting health and safety standards. So founders retaliated by running a hugely successful fundraiser that enabled them to build a brand new fully professional kitchen inside the warehouse. They continue providing over 1,200 hot meals every day for the refugees of Calais and Dunkirk.
Since returning home, in conversation with a first-time volunteer at L’Auberge Warehouse, I thought she summed it up well.