Over 150 trade unionists, campaigners and students travelled to Calais on Saturday to bring donations and supplies to refugees.
The solidarity convoy was organised by Stand up to Racism and Care4Calais. People brought money and supplies such as warm winter coats, often collected in their workplaces.
Fay was one of three teachers who came from a school in east London with a full van of donations and “messages of hope” from pupils.
“The response was really positive,” she told Socialist Worker. “A lot of people don’t realise the refugee crisis in Calais is still going on after the ‘jungle’ camp was demolished last year. You have to explain that people are still there—they’re just sleeping rough.”
A delegation from Manchester had raised over £1,000. Local government worker Varnetta had gone around her workplace with a collection.
“There’s racism and scapegoating in the media,” she said. “But collecting allows you to have a conversation about what’s really happening in Calais and why it’s a result of government policy.”
Hundreds of refugees are sleeping rough around the Calais area, where they face nightly attacks from the police. Cops routinely take their tents and sleeping bags or render them unusable with pepper spray. This denies refugees even the slightest protection from the bitter cold.
Qayyum from Afghanistan told Socialist Worker, “Every day the police come here and hit us and spray our sleeping bags. I say to them why? I am human.”
Sami from Pakistan added, “The police took my tent and sleeping bag. Sometimes we have to sleep in the rain. I get very sick.”
Claire Mosely from Care4Calais warned that plummeting temperatures could result in deaths from exposure. She told activists, “If the police take away someone’s tent and then that person dies, is that culpable homicide? I think it is.”
After delivering supplies to locations around Calais, activists listened as refugees told their stories.
Jonny, aged 17, was one of them. He fled persecution in Ethiopia, where his father and brother are in jail. “I want to study, I want a future—I don’t want to stay in Calais,” he told Socialist Worker. “We need someone to help us.”
More refugees spoke at a debriefing meeting before activists returned to Britain.
Mohammed, aged just 13, has been in Calais for four months after saying goodbye to his family in Afghanistan. “In Afghanistan there was no school and life was so hard so I had to leave,” he said through an interpreter. “I want to go to England and play cricket.”
Another refugee, Solomon, said, “In Sudan there is war, the government is killing innocent people, it’s difficult to live a normal life. We have no choice, we have to get out.”
Now he has spent the better part of a year wandering northern France and Belgium “just trying to find a way to cross the border.”
Ending the refugees’ plight by bringing them safely to Britain should be simple. As Qayyum said, “There are not so many people here. Maybe 1,000. It would only take a few trucks to take us all.”
But that will take a fight to overturn a draconian immigration policy and the racism that drives it.
Labour peer Alf Dubs was among those who saw the convoy off from Downing Street on Friday. The Tories closed his scheme for bringing over unaccompanied refugee children earlier this year.
He told Socialist Worker, “The fact that these people are outside in winter in Calais is shameful. It’s very important to stand in solidarity with them. We need to make our voices heard and shift public opinion.”
At the debrief in Calais NEU union president Louise Regan slammed the racist “dehumanisation” of the refugees by politicians and the media.
“We have to tell the stories about what is happening here,” she told activists. “We can spread a very important message.”
The root of the problem is that refugees are denied the right to come to Britain safely. Regan urged activists, “When you go back, fight for that right for them.”
A fight for pay restoration
Eight week strike over Covid payment
Keep up pressure on the streets
They targeted the Egyptian embassy