Report from Calais

Great to have received this report back from Jonathan Rendel, who, with his wife Jane, recently delivered aid donations from RAISE to the the Help Refugees warehouse in Calais, and spent several days volunteering there.

Calais, France 07 Nov 2016

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Jonathan and Jane

Every one thanks YOU for your generous donations

We are at the immigrant camp supply depot on the outskirts of Calais – just minutes away from the Chunnel. We are delivering clothes and shoes donated in Somerset and Wiltshire. All collected by the Frome group of volunteers, Refugee Action In Somerset East (RAISE).

We have been helping feed and clothe over 1000 refugees in the Dunkirk refugee camp. In addition we are supplying the wood used to heat and cook.

The range of volunteers here at the huge warehouse supply depot is diverse – all ages – nationalities from UK, Italy, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and many more from outside Europe.

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Jonathan with two other volunteers in the warehouse loading bay

But the rows of cars usually parked outside the depot are few now as the Calais Camps close. The Jungle is completely cleared – over 4000 refugees rehomed across France with the 800 unaccompanied children properly housed.

There is no longer the urgency to put together care packages for families – the French Authorities do not let volunteers onto the camps unless it formally agreed with Dunkirk – regular deliveries such as hot lunches and fuel for kitchen cooking are agreed in advance.

Warm up at 09:30 – we are shown how to exercise by the energetic and charismatic team leader. Working teams organisation is much more safety conscious than when we were here last – clothing and hygiene product sorting is the main activity and loading the sorted shoes, boots and trainers onto pallets for delivery by container to the camps in the Lebanon and Greece.

I am staggered as always by the generosity of the donated items – many new clothes and shoes, still with labels, pallets of tinned food and vegetables stacked to 2 meters. Fuel for the wood burner cookers for the immigrants is still being prepared and these deliveries will continue as long as the camps in Dunkirk stay open. Cooking continues for several hundreds of meals per day – one complete section of the warehouse is an industrial kitchen manned totally by volunteers – many professional chefs.

But what is the real situation?

Dunkirk is a different story to Calais. The Mayor of Dunkirk has the same problem as Calais with thousands of refugees in informal camps. In March 2015 the Mayor took over a year’s lease on land between the main motorway and railway and built a formal camp with proper facilities – washing and latrines – proper cabins with central cooking and eating facilities – I worked on these in April 2016.

I hear from the Help the Refugee Charity that the French Authorities are issuing wrist bands to all the refugees on camp until tomorrow – if you do not have a wrist band you cannot have access to the camp and are taken away by coach to be re-homed. There are stories of unaccompanied children bussed away to safe homes only to walk back over several days to spend time with their adoptive parents.

It is unclear what the French Authorities strategy is in Dunkirk with limiting access to the camp – I was informed that getting materials into the camp to repair and update the existing facilities is not easy and winter is with us. One of the problems is heating – the cabins are unheated without electricity and thus are very damp.

Why cannot the immigrants themselves carry out many of the volunteer jobs so they feel they are contributing to their own life? It would seem that the French Authorities agenda is to make sure that all camps near the channel ports are closed and maintaining these camps is only a temporary stop gap – the lease on the Dunkirk camp land runs out in March 2017.

But the accident rate around Calais in cars, lorries and trains is now low due to many fewer migrants risking stowing away in HGVs – police vehicles are very visible in the evening before dark picking up any roving bands of immigrants and sending them by coach to inland facilities.

A positive feeling is with us – now action is being taken to improve the life of migrants in France and they are encouraging migrants to register and apply for asylum in France. Also the state is now contributing to the running costs of the camp and, of course, to the new homes across France.

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The woodyard where pallets are broken up to provide fuel for cooking

What can we do to help?

I spoke to a rep from Calais kitchens which supplies food from the Calais Warehouse to the camp in Dunkirk.

All donations of clothes, shoes, sanitary products etc. are of great value. In addition maintenance is a big issue at Dunkirk – those volunteers registered to be on site can carry out repairs but are desperately short of power drills (they only have one battery drill). They need basic hand tools – hammers, nails and screws, screwdrivers, cutters, saws etc.

All donations are useful – to clarify what is required contact RAISE in Frome – take a look at their website.

To donate money please follow this link.

by Jonathan Rendel

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