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:https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/12/help-refugees-calais-accidental-activists
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: www.helprefugees.org.uk or by following them on Twitter/Facebook. Otherwise you’ll be reading this all day.