A visit to Calais

Jane Dodds Calais

Last week I left Welshpool with my car rather more heavily loaded than usual- with sleeping bags and tarpaulins, all donated by caring Montgomeryshire people wanting to help refugees living in the cold of a Calais winter.

I’ve reported in full on my visit to the Calais refugee camp last week in several posts and videos on my facebook site. Please click the link to have a look.

The sleeping bags were very warmly received by the volunteers in Calais. They are the most practical help for people living out under tents and tarpaulins in their thousands. I spent the first day in the warehouse, sorting out clothing, packing boxes and loading up 240 bags of food for families – to feed 1,600 people for a week. Other volunteers were outside constructing shelters, cleaning toilets, delivering and purchasing supplies. Volunteers provide help for refugees in desperate situations, they get no recognition, no payment and live in difficult circumstances themselves. And today in the kitchen, they had a celebrity singer working there quietly who also wants no recognition.

On my second day in Calais I was helping hand out the food parcels in the camp, as in the photo above. The squalor, filth, dirt and lack of facilities are overwhelming. Tents and shelters lie within inches of each other, amidst puddles of rancid water. People stand around wrapped up in coats and scarves but there is nothing for them to do. We went to one part for women and families and I saw at least two children under 10. I also saw young people, under 18, separated from their families. People smiled at us and chatted, but there was a sense of sheer hopelessness and loss.

Outside the camp, there are two features that hit you; the immense police presence – they are sitting in vans and cordoning off roads. And the second feature is the fence, I understand that it has cost the UK government £12 million to build.

So what needs to be done? Through history we have shown the world that we are a welcoming and compassionate country, with Jewish refugees, the Vietnamese boat people, with those fleeing the Kosovan war.

Within the camps are Eritreans escaping a brutal and vicious regime, Syrians leaving their war torn country, people from Iraq and Afghanistan who have been abandoned by western governments to civil war. David Cameron continues to be derisory about refugees. I would say to him go and visit Calais and speak to the refugees and to the people working there. While he refuses to see the conditions there himself, he has to listen to people who have seen this shocking humanitarian crisis.

Thank you to everyone in Montgomeryshire who has helped with donations. My visit was a humbling experience, and without our support, things will be much worse.

* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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7 Comments

  • Well done, Jane. A terrific effort.

  • It seems like every week, someone or other has visited the Calais camp, and for some strange reason we are led to believe that by dint of having Calais mud on their boots, that their view has more gravitas on the bigger problem of migration. Witnessing the muddy scene of ‘the jungle’ close up and personal, doesn’t elevate what is just another opinion on the migration problem.
    You say :
    “Within the camps are Eritreans escaping a brutal and vicious regime”
    Not anymore,.. there are now on safe French soil.
    “Syrians leaving their war torn country,..”
    Yes, but France is not war torn, hence they are safe to seek asylum in France.
    “David Cameron continues to be derisory about refugees.”
    That maybe the case, but they are NOT refugees in Calais. They stopped being refugees as soon as they stepped foot within the safe boundary of Europe.
    Given that Jane Dodds has visited the camp, she must have seen and asked about those steel containers, which have been installed to provide safe, warm, sanitary and dry housing rather than damp muddy tents?
    So I ask Jane, given that you have been there, is it true that those migrants in those camps are refusing clean safe shelter, because they are obliged to give their fingerprints, and are refusing on that basis? And if not, what *is* their reasoning for refusing a safe warm bed, preferring a muddy tent.?

  • Thomas Shakespeare 1st Feb '16 - 7:05pm

    @indigo – there can’t possibly be enough ‘steel containers’ for the thousands of refugees living in desperate conditions camps in Calais and elsewhere in Europe.

    refugee – a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

    These people are refugees. They may no longer be in a war torn country but they still do not cease to be refugees. While they may be relatively safe, I am still appalled by the poverty and disease which people not thirty miles from UK borders are suffering from. We need rapid action to distribute refugees fairly and ensure they can contribute to the countries they live in. They need safe, sanitary sanctuary.

  • richard winter 2nd Feb '16 - 9:02am

    I have no quick fix answers for the plight of the refugees in Calais.
    However If the conditions are so apalling and the refugees are so educated and motivated why don’t they organise themselves into working parties to tidy up, dig drainage channels etc and make the place more sanitary?
    Or could it be that by keeping the place squalid they think they improve the chances that the UK will suddenly relent and be like Germany and open its borders?

  • suzanne fletcher 2nd Feb '16 - 10:15am

    Well done Jane for walking the walk and not just talking the talk. There are huge problems and no easy answers, but actually seeing for yourself and listening to people there must give a much broader perspective.
    Nobody is saying it is the “fault” of the UK, but we all need to work together on a way forward.
    those of us living safely in the UK in decent accommodation are not here because we have done anything special to deserve it, it is where we are mainly because of where we happened to be born. We all have a responsiblity to others not so fortunate.

  • David Evershed 2nd Feb '16 - 4:52pm

    Surely the best way to help the immigrants camping in Calais is to get them some black ball point pens and application forms for asylum in France.

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