I’m not putting up any recognizable pictures or details of refugees because I don’t want to endanger them: they may risk persecution or have their request for asylum denied.
Due to the war in Syria many people have fled their war-torn country. Some have died – the pictures of this the world over ignited a new wave of protest against the “Fortress Europe” policies. Some of the survivors are in Calais, France now. Many of them try to reach England through the canal tunnel.
Belgium has started organising to help out the refugees in Calais. We’ve been collecting goods – clothes, tents, food, soap and so on. Many people must have been waiting for something to do, getting fed up with the news and the inhuman reactions of politicians, there have been so much donations… Yesterday, September 4th, we went to Calais. All in all about 80 to 100 cars/vans/trucks came from Belgium to help out in Calais. People from many different countries are there to help in an amazing show of solidarity.
After hours of travelling and sorting stuff, we ended up with about 18 people in the army truck of L, one of the two women who are the main organisers of the solidarity.
We were a group of friends – some from our feminist group FEL – and part of a larger convoy that came from Ghent. In the end we mostly worked with 6 people in a small team to help distribute goods. We had no idea what to expect and it was a strange experience to say the least. However, L gave us really good advise about how to distribute goods safely and respectfully. It does put you in a shitty position there. Being a white person there to help out, is undeniably happening in a racist context. So it’s weird, but I still say it’s better to go and help out than to sit back and do nothing.
Calais itself was pretty horrible. The conditions are inhumane: there’s five water distribution points for 4000 people. Many of the refugees have wounds from the fences – fences that don’t just have barbs but those creepy “army” rolls of thin sharp razor-blades on top. There’s not enough water and almost no doctors. One meal per day is provided for them, which means hours of standing in line in the rain. The police patrols with machine guns, they’re the ones making us all feel unsafe. They also take away the shoes of the refugees so they can’t leave the camp as easily.
The people there try to survive as best as they can but it’s getting worse. Not enough water and doctors means wounds that infect and so on. It’s getting colder. There is nothing here to survive the winter, many refugees will die unless housing, heat and water are organised. Meanwhile our governments sit back and do nothing. Some NGO’s advise even people not to come, to do nothing. There used to be a refugee centre in Calais. Not that that’s great but better a roof above your head in winter than a tent that leaks. The refugee centre was closed under the right-wing presidency of Sarkozy. There’s millions of Euros for building and maintaining the barb wire fences and the police and private security presence, money that could have been spent helping out refugees.
I met people from France, England, Scotland, Belgium, Spain… who came to help out. The people are doing what the government refuses. This is not easy. Organising so many goods and volunteers and trying to distribute them without chaos or causing fights is a logistical nightmare. We learned a lot from our mistakes yesterday. That said, despite some problems most of the distributions went very well.
What’s going to happen? We will continue to organise aid for the refugees in Calais. Meanwhile we need to continue to put pressure on the criminally inhumane actions of our governments. Hopefully our actions will continue to grow solidarity so we can create even better structural alternatives for the failures of our government and the big NGO’s.