JULY 2016 DAY TRIP TO CALAIS & DUNKIRK
Hello dear friends!
Taylar here, I’m going to fill you in on our day trip to Calais and Dunkirk…
This was a very short- but very emotional trip.
Ulf [Founder] and myself boarded the ferry from London to Calais on Friday 29th July 2016.
As we embarked on our journey early in the morning, we were surrounded by sea and I couldn’t help but feel an oncoming distinct separation between my comfortable life in London and the new environment I was about to put myself in.
The air was cold, and the wind whipped my hair.
I could see the shores of Calais in the distance. This was it.
We arrived in Calais and drove off the ferry straight to the Volunteers Warehouse. The Warehouse is where all the donations are sent and where a large number of volunteers work to sort these donations out, cook food for the camps and organize infrastructure and temporary housing for the camps.
The Warehouse was filled with overwhelming positive energy and volunteers from all over the world who were very eager to converse with us and thank us for the donations we had brought. So thank you to ALL who donated!
Donations are delivered daily to the camps from volunteers of the warehouse. So we loaded the donations up and headed to the refugee camp of Calais.
As we were pulling up to the border of the Calais refugee camp, we soon discovered that it was heavily patrolled by police- more than usual. We discovered there were crowds of volunteer groups being refused at the entrance.
I was quite confused and a little upset over this as to my knowledge, charities had authorization to enter refugee camps. I spoke with a man from one of the other volunteer groups and this was our conversation:
Taylar: Hey! What’s going on? Why won’t the police let us through?
Volunteer: I don’t know. We have been coming here everyday for the past week to help out and we have been let in everyday but today they say no. I don’t know why this is a problem.
Taylar: Is no one allowed in? Even volunteers who usually come here?
Volunteer: Yeah, sometimes they just don’t feel like letting you in for no reason. There’s nothing we can do about it, the police say no.
It was then that I first became fully aware of the control the border police have over who goes in and out- even if it is well-known volunteers and charities!
There was a distinct lack fair treatment shown from the police and I was quite unsettled by this.
Ulf and I walked over to the border and asked the police if we were to be let through. The two policemen became almost angered at this and held their waist guns close as they asked for our ‘authorization’.
[Normally, this authorization is not needed on the border if you are working for a charity or CIC, however, it seemed the border police wanted to exercise their power and they turned us away in an abrupt manor pointing their guns in our direction as if to exert their high position.]
We carried on- knowing we would be able to get authorization from the warehouse, and come back later.
As we left the Calais camp, we moved along to visit the old refugee camp of Dunkirk.
This place used to be home to hundreds and hundreds of refugees- now, nature has taken over and the refugees have been displaced. Some have made it to their desired destination and some have disappeared. Unfortunately there is no way to research this, as everything is kept under the radar.
It was quite an emotional experience- especially for Ulf, as he knew the life that once was there.
"It is like a graveyard", he says. The only reminders were old tents, boots, forks, toys and some women’s scarfs tied to branches of trees.
As we left the old camp of Dunkirk, we stopped off at a supermarket to buy some biscuits and sweets for the children in the new Dunkirk camp we would be visiting.
The new Dunkirk camp had an overwhelming sense of community and hope. You felt it as soon as you walked in. Everybody is smiling and wanting to make conversation despite the horrors they have lived through and the situation they are in.
Our first stop was the makeshift library which was occupied by a few refugees- one of which I have become quite good friends with! His name is Karwan! He is from Iraq and has plans to live in Germany.
Karwan was very thankful for the library that was in the camp and told me of his love of learning new languages. There was also an abundance of gratitude shown by the other refugees who took the English classes that were taught by volunteers in the library.
Our next stop was the the school/ play area.
There was a small wooden hut occupied by 5 children and 2 volunteers. They were in the middle of play time and the children were very excited to see new faces. We distributed the biscuits and sweets we bought earlier for the children and it was a beautiful experience to sit down with them and hear them laugh and play.
This is the area where we are hoping to put down gravel so that it makes for a safer environment for the children. We took measurements and spoke with the charity group that was in charge at the time to organize authorization from the council. We will keep you updated on this!
We then left the Dunkirk camp to try get in to the Calais camp again!
Calais TAKE TWO…
ONCE WE HAd authorization from the warehouse, getting into the Calais was a little easier. The police seemed to be a little less brutal this time round.
Once we were in, we were welcomed by a young refugee of 16 years of age. His name was Ahmed.
He told us his story as a refugee from Afghanistan and what he had to struggle with to make it to the border of France. Ahmed was thankful for the volunteer’s assistance in the camp as, if it weren't for the donations, they would struggle to survive. Ahmed confirmed that donations were distributed from the warehouse everyday between the hours of 16:00 and 18:00. This wiped out any doubt in my mind that the donations never reach the refugees. I was happy about this as I knew the donations were definitely making a difference- no matter how small.
I sat down with Ahmed for a while. We spoke about his aspirations and his hobbies. We were simply two young people having a chat, skipping rocks… laughing…but our every move being watched by the border police because we were quite close the edge of the camp. This is the first time I had felt a true sense of anger toward authority.
We didn’t take many photos in the Calais camp as the conditions were a lot worse than the Dunkirk Camp, and it didn’t seem respectable to the refugees there.
The camp in Calais is a jungle of tents. There are makeshift churches, places to eat and schools- however, I was the only woman walking around. This shows the questionable safety of the camps.
On the border of the camp, where there stands a high double barbed wire fence, surrounded by armed policemen...there is a message on the wall in grafitti....
This was almost chilling to see.
As we made our way back to where our car was parked, we visited the volunteer hut where Ulf and I parted ways for a while.
Ulf used a percentage of donation money to fill up 3 tanks of petrol so that the generator in the camp could work efficiently for a month. This means that the few computers in the Calais camp will be able to work! This will assist greatly in education and any classes run by volunteers.
While Ulf was organizing this, I spent the remainder of my time in the garden area just outside the volunteer hut where I found a guitar. I picked it up and Ahmed asked me to teach him. Before I knew it, I had a little audience! A small circle of male refugees ages 16-24 gathered to experience the music and this was one of the most wonderful experiences I have ever had. Being able to bring laughter, knowledge and smiles to those in need in the smallest way is a beautiful thing that we humans sometimes forget we can do.
THE SUN WAS SETTING NOW, and as we said our goodbyes, Ahmed walked Ulf and I to the border.
It was now that I felt a wave of guilt. I felt a separation.
Why was I getting into a car, on the way to a warm home with food, shelter, a job and endless opportunities waiting for me and 16-year-old Ahmed- who has fled his war torn country and has had to leave his family- was walking back to his makeshift house in a cold refugee camp patrolled by police who have revealed their brutality to many.
I cannot help but question… who am I to deserve this life I have?
And who are these kids in these refugee camps… these sons, these daughters, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers- who are they to deserve the life they have? They did not chose this. It was forced upon them.
We need to realize that displacement could happen to any one of us if we were faced with the calamity of war.
We need to understand that people fleeing their war torn countries of origin have the RIGHT to seek asylum.
We need to have compassion for these people.
We need to make a difference.
We need to give humanity a chance.
Please stay updated for news about our next trip and please share this story!