Over 200 vehicles are set to leave Whitehall in central London on Saturday morning for the French port of Calais.
Refugees are trapped in dangerous, miserable conditions there because of Britain’s border controls.
A convoy of trucks from national trade unions and carloads of activists will take donations (see right). They will also rally in Calais to demand the refugees are allowed into Britain.
Mental health worker Arshad Ali is driving one of three cars from Bradford, where the Stand Up to Racism group held a fundraiser concert last Saturday.
Addressed by a Syrian refugee, it raised £650 with an attendance of 100 people.
“I’ve been to Calais four times with smaller groups,” Arshad told Socialist Worker. “It’s heartbreaking to see anyone in those conditions—especially so many children.”
Student Scarlet Hellard is one of 15 people coming from Harlow in Essex.
She told Socialist Worker, “Refugees in Calais need to be recognised as human beings. They need access to adequate housing, the opportunity to build lives and support to integrate into society.”
The convoy is a protest against the policies that lock refugees out.
Arshad said, “We’re going for two reasons—to take some basic aid and to stand in solidarity.
“Refugees need solidarity from the European countries, to let them in and get them out of those camps.”
Scarlet said, “The Western world needs to take responsibility for its actions, which directly influence the need for people to leave their homelands.
“They risk their lives to get to safety only to find themselves stuck in camps.”
In many local groups the convoy unites people from both sides of the European Union (EU) referendum debate—against the anti-migrant racism of both official campaigns.
Scarlet said, “The scale of the humanitarian problem cuts across the political debate on the EU referendum. Whether we’re in or out, the refugees need our help.”
Britain and EU border closures force refugees to risk their lives at sea.
Three Iranian men were rescued from the Channel last Saturday when their dinghy began to sink. And a boat carrying 200 people was feared to have sunk off Crete on Monday.
Campaigners plan to hold report-back meetings and other initiatives on their return to spread the word.
Arshad said, “Following previous visits, we’ve shown our videos and photos to others and let people know what’s happening.
“There is scope for pressuring the government to take in more refugees.”
Unions urge support for Calais visit
The convoy to Calais in aid of refugees had already raised more than £20,000 plus large quantities of materials by last weekend, with more donations expected.
It is organised by Stand Up To Racism (SUTR), the People’s Assembly and other groups. These include Stop the War Coalition, Labour left group Momentum and the Muslim Association of Britain.
Britain’s two biggest unions, Unite and Unison, are both taking part, as are the PCS, TSSA, Aslef, CWU and FBU unions.
Unison leader Dave Prentis urged members to “give whatever support you can. Because in different circumstances it could be any of us—any of our families—stood far from home and unable to go back.”
Some 50 people attended a SUTR rally in Kingston, west London, on Thursday of last week where Green Party leader Natalie Bennett spoke.
Lancaster, Morecambe and District NUT agreed a donation of £200 at its meeting last Tuesday.
A student coach is planned from London. National Union of Students president?elect Malia Bouattia and vice?presidents Shakira Martin and Shelly Asquith are backing the convoy.
Speakers, including shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Labour MP Kate Osamor, Guardian columnist Gary Younge and comedian Rufus Hound, will address a rally on Friday evening.