A convoy of over 100 students and trade unionists travelled to Calais last Saturday to deliver solidarity and over £10,000 to the Care4Calais charity.
The French port town itself is a stark reminder of the results of austerity. People are being told to blame migrants and refugees rather than the French and British governments.
The Nazi Front National has used the toxic climate to whip up support and have held demonstrations through the town.
Following the French state’s brutal clearance of the “jungle” camp in October, the few refugees who are left are scattered across the area. That means charity workers find it hard to distribute food, clothing and medicine.
“People might think the problem has gone away,” said Mark Redfern from Kingston University in London.
“But the convoy to Calais showed me that the problem is so much more complex than just tearing down a couple of tents.”
The delegation shone a light on conditions faced by refugees.
The convoy was held as the Tories announced they are closing the door on child refugees coming to Britain —after allowing in just 750.
The charity Safe Passage provides legal advice and support to refugee children.
It issued a statement in response to the move, saying that there are still hundreds of children in France that have the legal right to come to Britain.
Figures from the European Commission show that only around 8,000 refugees have been relocated from Greece and Italy to other parts of Europe. That’s far below the 160,000 target the EU set itself.
Tariq Shinwari from Afghanistan spoke to Socialist Worker in Calais about his journey. “When you cross the border into Iran and Turkey, they will shoot you and kill you,” he said.
Tariq described how he reached Europe. “I came by sea, by boat. It was hard but I didn’t have a choice. It just had a space for ten people but there was 50 of us,” he said.
One Sudanese refugee spoke to Socialist Worker, also describing how he made the deadly journey across the Mediterranean because he had no choice.
Medical student Ayo Olatunji from UCL in London was on the convoy. He told Socialist Worker, “I met a refugee today who wants to study medicine like me.
“Because of where he was born and our situations I can study and he can’t. That’s something I find completely unfair.
“I feel society is really losing its humanity due to capitalism and I think we need to regain control.”
Before people left, Care4Calais volunteers briefed them on the situation and what can be done back in Britain.
We need to continue raising political demands on campus, in trade unions and workplaces as the way to fight back against the racist policies of the British state.
We need solidarity but we also need to build Stand Up To Racism to put pressure on both the British and French governments to do more.
Building Stand Up To Racism on campus
Students spoke to Socialist Worker about building Stand Up To Racism on campus and how they built the convoy.
In Sheffield, students and Stand Up To Racism activists raised over £2,000 to take to Calais.
Ciretta Paone-Hoyland from Sheffield Hallam University told Socialist Worker, “The Sheffield delegation collected £200 to cover the cost of the coach and £220 on stalls, selling home-made Christmas cards as well as SUTR badges.
“£780 was donated online through the Just Giving fundraising page and from personal donations.
“A further £1,000 was raised at the SUTR community meal, which was organised with the Heeley Asian Women’s Group and had a fantastic turnout.”
Daire Caminskey, one of seven students from Manchester on the convoy said, “We gave out donation boxes for people to leave in their local workplace, mosque, or church.
“We also raised funds outside Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Manchester.”
At Queen Mary University in east London students have passed a motion committing the student council to build Stand Up To Racism.
“The student union is keen to begin work to build for the 18 March national demonstration and get a Queen Mary Stand Up To Racism bloc,” Nadia Sayed told Socialist Worker.
Here are key dates for the anti-racist struggle in 2017
- Friday 20 January - Protests across Britain as Donald Trump is inaugurated US president
- Saturday 4 February - Stand Up To Racism trade union conference
- Saturday 18 March - National demonstrations in London and Glasgow against racism
For full details go to standuptoracism.org.uk