Welcome to the Calais Jungle

This is definitely a blog post out of the ordinary …. please bear with me!

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I’d been making up toiletry bags for refugees in the camp at Calais, and at the weekend my son and I went to Calais with my local solidarity group to distribute the toiletry bags plus tents, sleeping bags and food. It was an incredible, life-changing experience, not least for my son, who started the day as an anxious nerdy teenager but became a man who showed compassion, empathy, problem-solving and leadership skills. You can read all about our trip by clicking here (it’s a very long post!) and see some of the photos we took.

I knew before we left that this was unlikely to be my only humanitarian trip to France and indeed, we are going back on October 11th. Having spoken to the refugees and migrants we now have a much better idea of what they would really like, so this time we’ll be taking some luxuries like cake, biscuits, tinned fish, fruit juice etc, and I am on a personal mission to take wind up torches and woolly hats, scarves and gloves. The plan is to walk through the camp meeting people and providing some treats to those people who aren’t normally able to access the mass distribution that takes place at the entrance to the site – and I would love to be able to fill a rucksack or two with torches, hats and scarves!

You may have seen coverage of our trip on local media – we were on Points West and Inside Out West on Monday, and BBC Wiltshire have been running a series of recordings all week. While most people have been really supportive, we’ve also met with a lot of opposition, mostly from people who say we should help “our own” first.

Now I don’t really get this concept of “our own”… who are they? Yes, I’m English, I’m British, but I’m also a woman, a mother, a Romany (well, one eighth Romany), a European, a human being … so as far as I am concerned, anyone who is any of those things is one of my own … and I want to help any of my own who are in need.

But if “our own” means those most local to us, then we have been doing just that too. Only last week we put together a big bag of warm clothes and toiletries, a tent and a sleeping bag for a man who sleeps rough in a park in Swindon, and all donated goods that aren’t suitable for Calais will be given to local charities. So we are helping people both locally and further afield.

Whatever your political view on immigration, every human being has the right to food, warmth and shelter – they are basic human needs. If you would like to contribute in any way please do get in touch with me! You can also see the full list of donations here.

Something else I’ve been thinking about doing since the weekend is putting together a book of stories of refugees and migrants – why they had to leave their homeland, what the journey was like and what their hopes are for the future. So far I’ve had a lot of support for the idea on Facebook but I haven’t yet worked out the mechanics of it all – not least how I’ll fund staying in Calais for the time it would take to collect enough stories, or how I’ll deal with the potential language barriers. If you have any bright ideas please do let me know!

 

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