Socialist Worker

Anti-racist convoy unites with refugees in Calais

A Stand Up To Racism convoy took solidarity and supplies to refugees in Calais last weekend. Dave Sewell reports on the trip and the migrants’ resistance. Photographs by Guy Smallman

Issue No. 2470

Refugees hold a sit-in in front of Calais town hall

Refugees hold a sit-in in front of Calais town hall (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Refugees in Calais held an angry march last Saturday—and anti-racists from Britain were there to meet them.

A convoy of 15 cars brought supplies and over £6,000 in cash for migrants trapped in the “jungle” in the French port of Calais. 

The convoy was organised by the Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) campaign. Everything it took was raised by ordinary people. 

Many were surprised by the positive response. Kate from Oxford said, “I put something on Facebook and people have been donating. 

Seeing the horrific pictures on TV has galvanised people who might not have had a political bone in their body.”

One of the biggest delegations was from Brixton in south London, where trade unionists brought banners to wave the cars off. 

It included a group from a local mosque, the Lambeth Masjid and Progressive Community Centre.

Umar told Socialist Worker, “The local community has been very positive about it. 

“All of us migrated here, if not this century then in the last one.”

The refugees’ increasingly defiant struggle to reach safety has inspired solidarity across Europe. 

People have donated hundreds of thousands of pounds and so many supplies that NGOs working with the refugees are running out of storage.

Many people rightly demand that more is done.

Hanane, a media worker from west London, said, “The government needs to provide emergency housing for these people. There’s always room for our brothers and sisters, we just need to find it.”

North London pensioner Susie Helme agreed. “It’s nonsense to say there’s no space. 

“Look at all the homes that are empty, all the land that isn’t being used.”

Outraged 

Refugees and activists meet in Calais

Refugees and activists meet in Calais (Pic: Guy Smallman )


Demanding freedom in Calais

Demanding freedom in Calais (Pic: Guy Smallman )


SUTR organiser Maz Saleem told Socialist Worker, “People are outraged. It’s disgusting how the government treats these people—as if they would risk their lives for a pittance in benefits. 

“Britain needs to open the border and let them in.”

The convoy stopped at the Notre Dame church, used by charity Secours Catholique as a depot for clothes, tents and other supplies.

The donations made an immediate difference to Kadija from Ethiopia, who could replace her hijab. “I like the clothes,” she said with a smile.

Two months in the jungle have taken their toll on her. Kadija’s arm was wounded from her attempts to board the Channel Tunnel train. “It’s very dangerous and I’m very tired,” she told Socialist Worker. “My husband is in England, and I want to go there with him.”

Michelline Ngongo, a Labour councillor in Islington, north London, read out a message of support from Labour leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn.

She came to Britain as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo—and could only stay thanks to trade unionists organising to defend her.

“I left my country very young, and it wasn’t easy,” explained Michelline. “I had to leave everything behind—my friends, my family. 

“Let’s help these refugees. It’s very difficult to be in that situation.”

The convoy headed to a distribution centre near the “jungle” shanty-town that over 3,000 migrants call home. 

Activists were moved by the sight of their conditions. 

Sudanese refugee Abdullah told Socialist Worker, “We live in a jungle, we have no shelter and we only get fed once a day. I’ve been here for three months. 

“We need homes, and France isn’t helping us. You must open the borders and let us in.”

Safe

Refugees march in Calais

Refugees march in Calais (Pic: Guy Smallman )


Refugees protest

Refugees' protest (Pic: Guy Smallman )


Holding a sign saying, “Everyone deserves a safe home”, Abdullah was one of up to 500 refugees who marched from the jungle to a sit-in in front of Calais town hall. 

They chanted, “No Jungle”, “Freedom” and “Movement is a human right”.

Activists on the convoy supported their struggle. Cheers, applause and victory signs went up on both sides as the two groups met. 

Anti-racists called out, “You are welcome in Britain”.

Ibrahim from Eritrea told Socialist Worker, “We want freedom—the freedom to come to Britain.

“Lots more people would have come on the demonstration but they are too injured from trying to get on the train. 

“The police just hit, hit, hit, and they pepper spray you in the eyes. Many people have broken legs or hands.” 

The repression is nothing new to the refugees—and they aren’t about to give up.

Maher from Syria said, “We’ve been bombed in Syria, and we’ve had problems everywhere we’ve gone since. We want somewhere we can be free.”

His disabled brother Mustafa had come with him, walking almost half the way on crutches. 

He said, “Our demonstration is a message to the British media—look at us, and get us brought over there.”

That’s the priority for the activists too.

Weyman Bennett from SUTR said, “It’s very important to bring aid. 

“But it’s a drop in the ocean in terms of what they need and in terms of what the government could do by opening the borders. 

“What we want is for those people not to have to live in those conditions, for them to get asylum in Britain. That’s the point of us going.

“The people of Germany have welcomed the refugees. We need to bring that to David Cameron—to take to the streets and say if you don’t stand up as a human being, we’re going to make you.”


‘We pushed the door ajar, now we need to push it open’

Showing solidarity

Showing solidarity (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Activists from Britain unload supplies from their convoy

Activists from Britain unload supplies from their convoy (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Politicians have scapegoated immigrants, including refugees, for decades. This has affected attitudes among working class people.

Clare Mosely from the Wirral joined the convoy. She told Socialist Worker, “When I saw the sort of comments people were leaving under Daily Mail articles online I cried. 

“I got the email about the convoy and I was really glad someone was doing something.”

Widespread horror at the plight of refugees has shifted attitudes. 

Clare brought a carload of contributions from her friends raised at one day’s notice.

Student Ruby Hirsch raised funds and supplies around east London.

Chance 

“Everyone we spoke to saw it as a human crisis,” she said. “Even people who’ve said immigration is a problem want to help. This is a chance for us to push back.”

Bridget Chapman, a teacher and founder of anti-racist group Folkestone United, joined activists who brought support to the convoy at a rally near the Channel Tunnel entrance.

She told Socialist Worker, “Fear of migrants is highest in places where there isn’t much immigration—it’s fear of the unknown. 

“The right wing media has created this atmosphere of xenophobia and bigotry.

“It’s as if people have been afraid to speak in support of migrants, and that atmosphere is changing. 

“That’s a result of grassroots campaigning. 

“We’ve pushed the door ajar, and now we need to push it open.”


Keep on organising

Stand up to Racism plans a second delegation on Saturday 17 October. Other groups have initiatives too. 

NGOs working with the refugees in the jungle need support—but can also struggle to cope with the influx of goodwill.

If you want to go to Calais, join an organised convoy and contact local organisations such as Auberge des Migrants, Secours Catholique and Salam first.

Storage space is limited. Tents, blankets, sleeping bags and waterproof coats—especially for men—are always wanted. 

So are hiking boots and trainers.

One of the most useful things is money. It can go towards bigger infrastructure that’s harder to bring such as vans.

It also means you can ask for donations in your workplace or community group—the perfect opportunity to debate the issue and build for protests.

You can send money by PayPal to Stand Up To Racism for it to take to Calais in one go and save bank fees. Download a collection sheet from bit.ly/1O6pghE or find out more at standuptoracism.org.uk including links to donate.


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