Quick 5 with Maddy Costa

We've chatted with Maddy Costa - Writer of 'Calais' - part of the double bill of performance Borderland//Calais performing as part of Vault Festival on the 8th to the 12 of Feb at 6.20 pm.

Maddy writes blogs, criticism and fanzines, mostly inspired by theatre, but also taking in music, feminism, poetry and more. She is critical writer with Chris Goode & and Company, and co-custodian (with Mary Paterson and Diana Damian Martin) of Something Other and The Department of Feminist Conversations, inter-related projects that think politically about performance and performatively about politics.


1. How does it feel combining political activism and Theatre Making?

A funny question, as I'm neither a political activist nor a theatre-maker. This is the first time I've written a text for performance (apart from the play i wrote when I was about 20 which NO ONE KNOWS ABOUT). And I've always shied away from direct action. And yet: a big chunk of my working practice as someone who writes about theatre is as critic-in-residence with Chris Goode & Company, whose mission statement includes a strong desire to hear marginalised voices, and to think about different ways of living together - anti-capitalist forms of social organisation, basically - and to advocate queer perspectives over heteronormativity. And in my writing about the company i'm fiercely political, with all of those desires mingling with my own, which have always been adamantly feminist.

2. How new is this for you?

The specific events I'm writing about - the demolition of the Calais camps in October 2016 - very new, to my shame. Writing for the stage - also new. Editing an unwieldy text into a cohesive narrative - very familiar.  I spent some years as an editor at the Guardian before writing full-time, and my critical practice blurs into dramaturgy, so I'm getting to exercise muscles in both stretchy but comfortable ways.

3. What do you want your audience to feel coming out of the show?

I really, REALLY don't want people to feel bludgeoned. Or that the text is pious or simple or romanticised. It's complex and I want people to spend some time with that complexity. And - obvious though it is to say - it would be amazing if people came out of it inspired or galvanised to do something to help, whether it's joining up with an aid organisation such as Crew for Calais to help out in Greece or Paris or elsewhere, contributing to charities here by volunteering to do admin, or donating money. I worry there's a hierarchy of aid, that one kind of aid is considered more valuable or worthy than another. It's all necessary, all vital.

4. Have there been any statistics or events in the research of the refugee crisis that have really resonated with you?

Because of the nature of what I've been doing - working with twitter feeds - mostly I've been devastated by the pettiness in humankind. Why spend your days sending basically abusive tweets to volunteer organisations in Calais about how much you loathe refugees? Making jokes about them? Also, I've been struck by the ease with which people - me included, in this answer - speak about the refugees as a monolith, as though "the refugees" weren't made up of thousands and thousands of individuals. Individuals from so many countries as well. So many languages. So many situations of danger and desperation from which they're escaping. But maybe these are things that have struck me; and in fact the thing that has most resonated with me is a kind of instruction on the Refugees Info Bus feed, in a list of things you could do to help in this crisis, which simply says: Be kind.

5. What’s been the most challenging part of your process?

I think I'm about to hit it: the first read-through of the text I've shaped from two twitter feeds lasted around 50 minutes, and it's supposed to be 20-30. And the feedback session at the end went roughly like this: "Is there too much of x?" "No! that's so vital!" "Do you think I should cut back y?" "No! that's really important!" I'm taking a few days off from it in the hopes that the space will help me see more clearly where I can make cuts. So there's that, and there's also holding my nerve when waiting for people to get back to me about whether they would like to perform in it - rather than emailing them literally every hour asking "Do you know yet? Have you decided? Can you?"


Tickets are £9 and 2for1 deals are available. If you are a refugee, displaced person or volunteer who can't afford a ticket, please contact We want to share these performances with you.

Book your tickets here




Quick 5 with Still Waiting

We caught up with John Biddle, Dom Coyote and Loren O'Dair, the team behind Still Waiting: A hundred handshakes in the Calais Refugee Camp, for a quick chat about their show, a gig theatre show about about the hundred handshakes you experience in the Calais, volunteerism and packets of pasta, and our relationship with Europe’s refugee crisis.

The show is part of the Crew for Calais season at the Vaults Festival and runs from the 1st till the 5th of Feb at 8.25pm


1. How does it feel combining political activism and Theatre Making?

A bit of a step into the unknown.
It's great to be connecting with Crew for Calais for the first time, an organisation that makes it feel totally possible to combine theatre and activism

2. How new is this for you?

The whole activism thing is new for some of us.

3. What do you want your audience to feel coming out of the show?

Entertained and moved, and a tiny bit more likely to do something.
Angry, Inquisitive, full of hope, and wanting to connect.
To make the shift from thinking about doing something to actually doing something.

4. Have there been any statistics or events in the research of the refugee crisis that have really resonated with you?

One of our songs is about how difficult it is to take in all the statistics... We hope that it will make the statistics more human, and consider the people behind the numbers.

5. What’s been the most challenging part of your process?

Finding the tone between the gravity of the subject and an attempt to make an enjoyable hour".


Tickets are £9 and 2for1 deals are available. If you are a refugee, displaced person or volunteer who can't afford a ticket, please contact We want to share these performances with you.

You can book tickets here.




Omran Daqneesh | Credit: Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center

Omran Daqneesh | Credit: Courtesy of Aleppo Media Center

It’s the moment he wipes his hand on the chair that’s too big for him. He’s just touched his face, looked at the blood drawn onto his hand, and it seems sensible to try and get it off. It’s the idea that the little wipe of his hand will clean him of all the dust and blood and shock.

Last night a photograph was shared on Twitter of Omran Daqneesh, a five year old survivor of an air strike in the Qaterji neighbourhood in Aleppo, Syria. A video followed, showing him being lifted into an ambulance and placed on the chair, dazed.

Almost 300,000 people have been killed since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, and millions have been displaced. But numbers don’t seem to affect people in the same way that individuals do.

This photograph reminds us who we’re really hurting when we say we won’t let refugees into our country.

Photograph and video now available on most news websites, but also on Raf Sanchez's Twitter @rafsanchez. Doctors are continuing to send Sanchez, the Telegraph's Middle East correspondent, photographs of wounded children, but he says many are too graphic to share online.



Beauty Days

Though the majority of the migrant and refugee residents in Calais are men, the unofficial jungle and official containers in the camp are resident to approximately 600 women. Many of these are single mothers and all have fought desperately to get this far.

There is a blue bus that travels round the camp, run by Help Refugees, one of the grassroots charities working in the camp. The bus functions as the Unofficial Women and Children’s Centre. Men aren’t allowed on the bus, where they distribute clothes, hygiene products, nappies and baby milk to mothers in the camp. On Saturdays children are also banned, providing a women’s only space for ‘beauty days’. This week Catherine Carr reported on the Centre for Women’s Hour.

On beauty days, snacks are provided as the women are given a little bit of pampering. Women can have their nails done, get henna designs on their arms and have a massage. The value of the Centre lies both in the importance of being made to feel human by the luxury of small things, and because the physical and emotional pain that collects as a result of being in- and trying to escape from- the camp is immense. Muscle ache from climbing, running and hiding in lorries for hours on end takes its toll, so a massage is not only mentally relaxing but also physically therapeutic.

The Centre provides an opportunity for the women in the camp to gather, relax, have fun and socialise. On Woman’s Hour, a volunteer explains the positive impact of the bus. ‘You’ve have some of the Eritreans doing some of the Afghan girls’ hair, and before, when they first got here, they’d be very separated. This place has kind of bought people together.’

You can still catch the programme here.



Paper Aeroplanes

A plane rushes overhead as I talk to an English language student in the Calais camp, a young guy from Iraq. He looks up at the plane and we watch it get smaller. ‘Take me with you!’ he laughs up at it. His hands, shaking dramatically at the sky, drop to his side awkwardly, the joke finished. ‘Sometimes you think differently,’ he says. ‘You wish you were Spider-Man.’ His hands make a claw as if he could sprout a web to grab onto the plane.


The planes tease those in the camp, and other refugees spread across the world. If only travel was so easy for them. Last year Hans Rosling, doctor and public speaker, made this short video explaining why refugees travel by boat rather than by plane. The video recently resurfaced and I thought it was worth sharing.

Rosling compares the price of getting a plane to that of heaving onto an overpacked boat, seeing that the latter is often almost three times the former. So why don't they get on planes? The primary issue is that the current rules state that if a person is flown to a country to claim asylum as a refugee and is turned away, the same airline must fly them back to their original country. As many people don't have the right documentation, it gets tricky.

‘The European government,’ Rosling says, ‘has escaped responsibility when they have transferred the task to decide who is a refugee and who is not a refugee, to the staff at the check in counter’. Because the mainstream airline staff don’t want to be responsible for their company having to pay for the return flight if the person in question’s documents do not prove refugee status, they refuse to take anyone without proper documents.

Hence the boats.


The boys I babysit are walking along the common, eating ice creams. Their sleeves are wet and muddy from where they’ve fallen over as a result of our football session. As one throws a strop, I realise how lucky they are to have no idea how much freedom they have. We go home and make paper aeroplanes.





The New Odyssey

‘My children had already lost their home and their education. Had we stayed, they would have been by default raised on weapons and war. The only option was to leave.’ – Hashem al-Souki

Patrick Kingsley untangles the chaotic mess of the refugee crisis across Europe in The New Odyssey as he reports from 17 countries, interviewing migrants and refugees, politicians and policy makers, volunteers and coastguards- even smugglers. In comparing these refugee’s journeys with the scale of Homer’s epic Odyssey, Kingsley does what the majority of the media does not; he gives them credit for their bravery rather than spreading disgust for their desperation. The New Odyssey is the kind of book that makes you want to read paragraphs to whoever is in the room with you, as if repeating sections will make the absurdity of the situation sink in. It’s an addictive page turner that is thrilling until you remember these are real people’s lives.

In 2015 when the Guardian had the foresight to appoint its first migration correspondent, Kingsley had the opportunity to report from all over the world. His appointment has translated into this book, a weight of personal stories, statistics and marathon journeys. He tucks himself into the lives of these refugees to get as close as he can to the reality of this phenomenon, breaking into stadiums where thousands of people are being held, joining a mission with Medecins Sans Frontieres and sleeping rough with border crossers. The vividness with which Kingsley is able to portray through his descriptions comes from throwing himself into these situations as well as his ability to gain the trust of so many strangers.

The story of Hashem al-Souki, a kind and terrified Syrian father wanting to get to Sweden in order to apply for family reunification, dominates The New Odyssey. In rollercoaster terms, Hashem’s story is pretty much Thorpe Park’s Stealth in the speed at which fortune can switch to disaster, and the tension that builds as he gets closer to his end goal. Delicately thought out plans are forcibly rearranged as borders are closed, laws are made and new dangers appear. Kingsley carefully and clearly lays out these changes so that we can keep up and The New Odyssey provides a thorough and intimate explanation of the crisis up until the end of 2015.

None of the stories told here can have a traditional ending, we don’t know if they’ll live happily ever after. But their escape from war torn countries and poverty means that at least people like Hashem can have a chance at a future. As Kingsley’s words drop off the last page, he leaves us wondering what happens when these ordinary people stuck in extraordinary circumstances reach their new destinations, our fingers crossed for them all the way.




Exodus: Our Journey to Europe

'I was almost killed for a stupid idea called the U.K.'

These words feel particularly pertinent in light of the politics of recent weeks.

Last week I mentioned the BBC’s programme Exodus: Our Journey to Europe. These are a few snippets from the programme and a selection of articles responding to it.

 The documentary is profoundly moving and insightful into the intricacies of their journeys. The humongous decisions they have to make daily and dangerous positions they are forced into are intertwined with clips of them relaxing as friends, or playing around in a swimming pool, then practicing saving each other in life jackets. What makes this programme unique is that the refugees filmed it themselves. Sometimes they risk their lives to record smugglers. It is made largely without commentary which takes away any element of pity shown by the production company, and simply tells these people’s stories as they make horrifically difficult journeys in an attempt to find safety.

'Nobody wants to leave their country and risk dying in the sea. But when it becomes impossible to live in your own country, people will do desperate things.'

Exodus shows astonishing feats of human resilience. It is a very worthy watch.

A beautiful short section of one story told in Exodus, that of 11 year old Israa. She shows a level of courage and resilience I’d have thought impossible in an 11 year old. Hearing her say that if her boat sinks, she knows her younger siblings are the ones who will get saved. She knows, she says, how to save herself.

A moving account of watching the programme.

An insight into the filming process (thought the title is an exaggeration)

Some stills and another good write up.

An interview with the creative team behind Exodus.



Alex: Exodus, Edgeryders and community in Europe

Another week, another blog discussing some of the things going on around the refugee crisis in Europe.

I hope that many of you watched the documentary on BBC2, Exodus. It was really dramatic to see the actual process of travelling across the sea from such a close up perspective, and just goes to show the lengths that people go to, and the danger they put themselves in to escape from persecution, political instability or war. Part one is now up on iPlayer and the series continue tonight with the next step of the journey across mainland Europe to Calais. It won’t be an easy watch, but it’s really important that we see these stories, learn how ubiquitous they are for so many people and understand that we will have to deal with the psychological aftermath of this process for the next 100 years. There will be a whole generation of people living in Europe for whom this was their childhood experience and we need to be ready to deal with that, talk openly about it and find ways that we can support thousands of people who will be suffering silently with the post-traumatic stress of fleeing for their lives.

As well as being actively involved in Crew for Calais I am a member of an online community of people from around the world (especially focused in the European mainland). This community of Edgeryders brings together people who are working at the edges of technical development, social cohesion and development communities. There are people who work for UNDP, people running and living in intentional communities looking at new ways of structuring human civic interaction, hackers, digital nomads and a whole group of people who see the current systems as broken or fractured and want to use their skills, interests and knowledge to crack open these busted models and make real, positive change to the world around them. By using collective intelligence and engaging with each other’s ideas and projects we support the development of new initiatives.

Currently we are undertaking a massive three project called OpenCare, looking at ways that individuals, hackers, makers and all kinds of small scale initiatives can develop/work together to create a response to the Care crisis that Europe is on the cusp of plunging into. You can find out more about the project here:

Part of this process has been to look at the issues surrounding ‘people on the move’. This broad subject heading allows us to look at the issues that we all face in the current circumstances, including a number of politically hot topics, like intra-European migration, access to health and civic services, temporary contract workers, a mobile workforce and an increasing lack of job stability. As performing arts people, I know that this is of interest as the situation is very similar to the way that many of us live our lives.

Obviously we can also use this topic to think about refugees and asylum seekers. I’ve been using my time out in Calais to share more information with a wider European audience about the situation there. I was amazed how few people knew about the circumstances of the camp there, or who thought that the camp was a much more established, official organisation. They’ve certainly been interested to learn about how the systems and structures have grown up there, especially as they have been put in place almost exclusively through self-organisation and volunteer development. It’s unique to find such a large socio-economic structure with so many people feeding into it, and taking out of it, that has developed without any input from the institutional structures of government or NGO input.

It has also been really revealing to learn about some of the projects that are occurring in Germany. The situation there is very different, because you have a large number of people who are where they want to be, and are just waiting for the slow moving machinery of state to process them and secure their status. Nevertheless, the problems that have been found at the refugee processing centres/camps in Berlin mirror many of the issues that occur in France, mostly a lack of services and opportunities for the young men who are there, coupled with a general lack of opportunity to use skills and find ways to deal with the crippling boredom they find themselves subject to while they wait for papers and permission.

A group of students for UDK (University of the Arts, Berlin) have been working with refugees in the centre in the old Templehof airport complex (seeing a massive Nazi building turned into temporary housing and support services for refugees fleeing persecution is my idea of delicious irony). You can follow their development and implementation by visiting the following links: (in German) (in English) (in English)

It’s been a pleasure to see how they have approached a social integration problem from a design point of view and watching their investigation develop and focus has really made me think about some of the problems in Calais, and how, sometimes, in looking to deal with humanitarian needs we overlook the more complex, intangible needs at the top of Maslow’s pyramid of needs because we’re focusing on perfecting the systems at the bottom.

What I mean by this is that whilst the situation in places like Calais continues to be sub-optimal in terms of health and safety provision, I see that there is now more need for attention to be paid to creating some basic services around esteem and self-actualisation. Because Calais is a world within the world cultural integration is a much smaller part of the landscape in the camp than we are seeing in similar structures around Europe. To this extent our European neighbours are doing a better job at finding ways to integrate refugees into their communities.

Since the clearances in the southern section Calais to me feels more like a place where the traditions and cultures of the various communities have crystallised into separate, homogenous sectors. Whilst this is of interest from a socio-anthropological view, and it certainly makes for an interesting walk around the camp, it doesn’t do much to help with integration into either modern British society, or into contemporary French culture.

In the UK we’ve historically been concerned with the ghetto-isation of migrant communities within our cities. We see that in the long term this approach to social integration hasn’t necessarily worked, and serves to divide and isolate communities from each other, leading to the fear and mistrust that we see now playing out in our post-referendum malaise.

This brings me back to the things I’ve been writing about for the last two weeks, around how we support the services in the UK working with people who have made it here.

Most of the people I have spoken to in Calais want to come to the UK because they have family already here. Their experiences and journeys has been similar to those we saw in the Exodus documentary and it is vital for the future health of our communities that we realise that whilst arrival and asylum in the UK might be the end of their physical journey, it is barely the start of their emotional and psychological journeys to safety. We must make sure that we don’t demand (through callousness, or through lack of interest) these people disappear into their own crystalised ghetto communities in our cities, but that they are encouraged to integrate into our society, and that our society is forced to integrate into theirs.

The arts can, and must, play a formative role in bridging this gap between cultures. Whether it be through music, dance, film or theatre, we are encouraged to see the similarities in human culture and not the differences. It is tempting to think purely in terms of stories, of bearing witness to the plight of others, but if we can’t also dance and sing and laugh with people who have suffered we are at risk of creating an artificial barrier between ourselves. Suffering and fear are universal languages, but so are laughter and joy.

Keep fighting the good fight; keep putting pressure on those who need to be reminded of their humanity; keep challenging yourself to do things that scare you; keep working to make sure that we don’t forget our duties as a rich, powerful, prosperous and peaceful nation.

Just keep on keeping on.

‘illegitimi non carborundum’



My Journey - Aboud Shalhoub

Whatever further border controls or laws are put in place through Brexit, the 21st century sees a world on the move, be it legally or illegally. There are currently around 60 million displaced people around the world. With increased media coverage of the refugee crisis, there are more of these people’s stories being told than ever before.

In the last month three films have been released which present the plight of refugees and migrants and follow their incredibly journeys. These are #MyEscapeExodus and My Journey. The films all have an element on roughness to them, a telling wobble of the camera on the sea and blurred shots as they are banged about, pushing past groups of people escaping. They also all have an emotional rawness that comes from the complete honesty and vulnerability of the films’ subjects. Together they make a powerful visual documentation of the refugee crisis in the modern world.

At Sheffield Doc Festival the film #MyEscape by Elke Sasse weaves the stories of refugees from Afghanistan, Syria and Eritrea. Next week the BBC’s programme Exodus comes out, a three-part documentary made by giving several refugees cameras to film their own journeys when it became impossible for camera crews to join them. But it is the third film, My Journey, that I want to focus on.

‘If the boat sinks, try to stay away from the others. Many of them don’t know how to swim, and they’ll grab onto you.’

My Journey is a series of six ten-minute films made for The New Yorker in collaboration with visual journalism unit Field of Vision. Filmmaker Matthew Cassel follows Syrian jewellery maker Aboud Shalhoub’s seventeen-hundred mile journey while his colleague Simon Safieh records Aboud’s wife Christine and their children at home in Damascus. Aboud is unable to find regular work in Istanbul where he arrived two and a half years after escaping, so he has to move to Europe to find work. He hasn’t seen his wife and children since he left and his children constantly ask why they can only see their father through Skype.

As Aboud, his brother Amer and Cassel set off from Turkey to Greece, they look like hitchhikers. They wrap their legs in cling film to be able to wade through water. It is Aboud’s fourth attempt to get to Europe. Through this six-part series we follow their uncertainty, their difficulty in making decisions of where to go and what mode of travel to use. There is no option that doesn’t involve risk of arrest, danger or sometimes death. The goal is always to find somewhere safe, apply for asylum and family reunification.

On their journey they are joined by a young mother Fadwa and her two girls. ‘In Syria we were threatened,’ one of the girls explains. ‘They wanted our car and one of us girls.’ There are so many layers of threat along everyone’s storyline, it feels impossible that such a young girl is talking about horrors so plainly. Their bravery is clear. But it also reminds you of Aboud’s wife and children back in Syria, still being threatened. I’ve always found it interesting that it is the men who go first, always the men we see being the first ones to flee to find safety for their families. It is easy to forget the necessary bravery of those left behind in the war zones, waiting. Fadwa explains the difficulty in choosing whether to stay or go. ‘I left Syria for them, but I’m worried I’m putting them in more danger on this trip’.

Their groups grows in Greece as it is safer to travel with more people, you have more protection from thieves and police. Though the group plans to splinter off as they each have different destinations- Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany- they travel together through the Balkans.

 ‘Are you going to cross Macedonia with flip flops?’

‘With flip flops and this bullet that’s still in my leg.’

It is a harrowing watch, like most documentaries on the crisis. But every one that we watch or make reaches out to a few more people and helps the rest of the world understand what people are going through to escape their home countries and get their families to safety.

‘Are we going to rest now?’

You can watch all of The Journey on The New Yorker.



This Is For Our Friend Hamid: One Good Thing

Needless to say, it’s been a bad week. So here’s one good thing that happened on the 24th June. On the evening of the result that will affect so much and so many of our lives, the British Museum held an event called ‘Moving Stories’ as part of Refugee Week. In engaging with migrant and refugee experiences through culture and arts, they curated a night to celebrate those who have made the journey to Europe, and to toast those who are still trying. There were multiple events, films screenings, theatrical performances and talks. This is just one.

In the basement of the British Museum is the Africa section. In front of carvings of ancient warriors, a group of teenagers stand on wooden crates. They each hold up signs saying what they want to be in ten years’ time. My friend and I have walked in a bit late so it takes a few minutes to figure out what’s going on. I assume they’re a group of British teenagers from a London community centre who have made this piece in response to the refugee crisis. Then I realise.

It’s a performance called ‘We Are You’ by teenagers from DOST, a centre for young refugees and migrants. As the performance unravels they tell us where they’re from, and we get a glimpse of what they care about, prioritise, need. It is mostly non-verbal, using music and dance to tell the story. They are so young and have been through so much, but they’re just telling us what it’s like to be a young Londoner. Their energy and enthusiasm is infectious. They may not all be natural performers but they seem so proud to be telling their stories and sharing this music with us.

We watch it again to see what we missed at the start. One teenager goes up to investigate a wooden crate. As he reaches to touch it, another yells out to stop him. The first pulls back but is curious, so reaches in again. The voice yells. Another teenager walks to another box. As he reaches out there’s another shout from the side. Gradually we see this group emerge, mostly boys with two girls, playing cat and mouse in partners as they try and see what’s inside the crates. It becomes a cacophony and turns into a drum beat which melts into music. In simple movements and uses of rhythm and sound, we see how much these people – so young, one was fourteen, though they look older - have been turned away, rejected. But above all it shows them embracing life in London and enjoying thinking about their futures. It isn't self pitying at all. In the programme Director Jennifer Tang explains that these performers are ‘first and foremost, teenagers’, and are defined by that, far more than by their immigrant status. The words she uses to describe them, ‘resilient, funny, generous, kind and honest’ feel so important today, when so much of the country feel lacking in these traits.

They carry on dancing through the applause, then come on with one more sign. ‘This is for our friend Hamid’. The standing ovation continues long after the music ends.

If only everyone who voted Leave could have seen this.



Treading Water: EU Referendum

‘They talk about what makes Britain great. How we are morally right, the people who will do the right thing. Well that should be helping others in need, setting an example to the world – not running away at the first sign of trouble.’ - John Barnes Crew for Calais is one of the charities sending volunteers to the refugee camp to do a little to help this enormous human crisis. I went to Calais several months ago and am returning later this summer, this time with the charity. This is not only a very tragic situation but one that is, much like the paths refugees are taking to reach Europe, constantly changing. We must keep talking about it, researching it and finding new ways to help. Alongside the other blogs that are starting up for Crew for Calais, I’m going to be contributing with my experiences in the camp as well as wider relevant topics. In this post I want to focus on the refugee crisis in conjunction with the EU referendum. Coverage of the crisis has dipped and swelled at different points over the last two years, as it became the big news story of 2015. The current focus in relation to migration is, of course, the referendum. Pro and anti-immigration comments have been slung about this week and the topic has been talked about in particular because of Brexit’s- or rather Farage’s- poster showing masses of refugees in Slovenia, the tone and level of distaste of which has been compared to Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech. When looking at the photographs of a powerful white British politician standing in front of this sea of non-white faces seemingly swarming towards us, it is very difficult to see this as anything other than racist. Last week Chris Thorpe sat on the Royal Court stage for six hours reading out top comments on newspaper articles about migrants and refugees in his durational performance, The Milk of Human Kindness. In demonstrating extreme lack of compassion shown for those fleeing war, terror and poverty, Thorpe shows the worst of us, and how the press encourages it. It is particularly relevant in a climate of xenophobic comments the Leave campaign continues to feed us. Andrew Haydon wrote of the performance, ‘you have to be quite alert to stop yourself- in familiar surroundings and watching a familiar performer- just defaulting to agree with whatever’s being said on stage.’ It is this idea of passively agreeing with what we read, hear or see that has been raised at an extreme level this week. Thorpe’s performance came a few days before the murder of MP Jo Cox. (It has been argued that her tragic death should not be politicised, but it is difficult to avoid when the act was committed, at least in part, for political reasons.) In a radio programme on LBC, James O’Brien fiercely articulated the idea that it is conceivable that a man could kill a person as a result of the atmosphere of hatred we are currently being bathed in. He notes the ridiculousness of this anti-immigration feeling. ‘We want our country back from who? We want our country back from when? We want it back from the 21st century do we, we want it back from a world in which the movement of people and the movement of populations is as commonplace as the movement of product?’ Both Haydon and O’Brien suggest how highly and easily we are influenced by what we see around us. The point has been raised multiple times that we should be voting on the 23rd June not for ourselves but for our children, an idea that footballer John Barnes has welcomed and this morning wrote a passionate article about why he’s voting remain. ‘Britain has always told the world that being British is about the humanity, compassion and moral fortitude that we have. All great things that we are supposed to have spread across the world. A leave vote now says that we don’t really care about anyone else […] Leave says it doesn’t want to stop immigration entirely – it only wants people that can help us, that have the qualifications and skills that we need. But what about the other people who are displaced or disenfranchised? Don’t we have a responsibility to help them too, especially when they are fleeing countries whose problems we have helped to create, such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq?’ We should not just be voting for our children but for the children of these refugees. ‘We cannot just wash our hands of the situation,’ Barnes continues. ‘We are the first on the frontline to go into countries to liberate people in the name of freedom – that’s what we’ve claimed. And now, all of a sudden, they need our help and we turn them away. Yet the rest of Europe stands ready to help. Why are we the first to jump ship?’ We shouldn’t be turning these people away, we should be helping them. We need to be open to the world and show compassion to those who need it, rather than simply those who we need, and that the best way of doing this is remaining in the EU. Many voting Leave are doing so the hope of curbing immigration, but even if the government were to further restrict who legally enters Britain, people running away from unimaginable fear will not be deterred by one more closed border. No matter what the result of this referendum, immigration and the migrant and refugee crisis will not just go away. I hope that we can fight the hatred with kindness and logic, and work together to make a better EU, rather than, as Barnes says, ‘jump ship’, and leave those in need behind to keep treading water.



Alex's First Blog - Help Refugees UK

Hello everyone and welcome to what I hope will become a regular blog for Crew For Calais.

In these posts I’m hoping to be able to share more information around the wider issues and look at some of the stories that are happening around the globe that have a direct effect on the refugee and migration issues that we at CfC work to improve.

Some of these stories will involve highlighting the great work that some of our partners are doing, others might look at recent stories or developments around Europe (and beyond) some will also look into stories that don’t get much traction in the UK media and will help to give some further context to the global issues that drive refugees to risk all they have to travel to places like Calais.

I also hope to be able to share some great positive stories that are coming from refugee and integration camps around Europe as local citizens find new and positive ways to integrate and improve the lives of refugees in their countries.

It’s now the run into the summer festival season and we’ll all be getting busier so some posts might be short and snappy, others longer ‘think-pieces’, who knows?

For the first week I want to spend a little time explaining how we have helped support the work of Help Refugees and give you a few insights into the work that they do around Europe.

Back in February I went across for a weekend with a small team from Leeds and London to help build shelters on the camp in Calais. En route we got separated from the main convoy and had to catch a later ferry. As a result we turned up to the Calais sorting and distribution warehouse without a large group of people who knew what they were doing/where they were going. My initial response to this massive sprawling warehouse full of the stuff and action was one of awe and a feeling of being totally overwhelmed by the sheer scale of action and logistics that this place required. I only spent a few minutes there before re-joining the team but the place left a real impression on me and I went home describing it to people as “as if we had deployed an entire battalion of troops to Northern France and the logistics centre was being managed and organised solely by volunteers.”

When Crew For Calais put out an urgent call for help late March I responded and went over to Calais for what turned out to be nearly 2 months all told. I didn’t have a set goal, or a set group to help so I gravitated naturally towards the warehouse in Calais, set up and run by Auberge Des Migrants (more on them in another post) but now being managed, staffed and generally kept going by the hard work of the team behind Help Refugees.

If you want to learn more about how Help Refugees got started and how they developed and grew in such a short space of time then I highly recommend this article from last week:

The article naturally focuses on the hard work that the founders do to help set up and support the work of those on the ground in Calais but a massive shout out must go to the hard work of the three women on the ground in Calais who help keep everything running for them at the warehouse. It’s highly likely that if you’ve volunteered through CfC you will have met at least one of them during your time out there (or you will do when you go out in the future)

Hettie (who justifiably gets acknowledgement in the article) is in charge of all the work in the warehouse and on site. With an ever developing number of charities and initiatives all working in/around/on the camp this requires a ridiculous level of ball juggling/ego stroking/begging/poking and generally an ability to keep motivated and focussed that most of us can only dream of.

Emma is the volunteer co-ordinator and responsible for making sure that everyone on site is covered by insurance, is well trained and well resourced. Whilst I was there they organised conflict resolution sessions for long term volunteers and set up weekly sharing and group therapy sessions. When you are working in a high stress environment with people who are working themselves to their limits to help others and not always taking time to look after themselves this kind of gentle and smart approach to looking after their volunteers is really helpful. Emma is also the first port of call of all the internet enquiries and emails from potential volunteers from around Europe, as well as helping sort out emergency accommodation for volunteers who show up on the gate everyday unheralded (like I did).

Finally, and by no means least is Isobel who is tasked with the monumental job of looking after the donations to the warehouse. Every large donation (hopefully) contacts the team before arrival to be given a time slot. Everything from the smallest car-full to a fully articulated lorry is run through the donations co-ordinator. As well as managing incoming aid Isobel is in charge of keeping lists of wanted donations up to date, chasing some of the more bizarre requests and generally making sure that people outside of Calais are doing everything they can to provide what is needed to the various charities that operate at the warehouse.

This could mean finding pallets for donations or chasing donations of underwear. If it’s needed then chances are that Isobel is dealing with it.

There’s so much going on through Help Refugees but their main focus is on the distribution of aid onto both the Calais and Dunkirk camps. This includes helping with and overseeing all the clothing and food line distribution as well as distribution of dry food goods and mobile distribution of items to shelters and tents. They also help with the monthly census that helps keep on top of the numbers on the camp and counteract the misinformation that is often put out by various agencies, including those of the French Authorities.

There’s so much more to say about the work that they do around Europe, including the work they do in Greece and Macedonia, but for now if you want to find out more about the work they do I recommend you check out their website: or by following them on Twitter/Facebook. Otherwise you’ll be reading this all day.