Sunday, 3 January 2016

Birmingham delegation make Christmas visit to Calais refugee camp

The Stand Up To Racism Birmingham delegation heading to the Calais refugee camp. Photo by Adam Yosef
A special Christmas delegation of volunteers and activists from Birmingham visited the refugee camp in Calais during the weekend, to help some of the thousands stranded there. The group of 14 Brummies visited what has become known as 'The Jungle' refugee camp, to build solidarity; and to make financial donations which have been raised by members of the public.

The visit was organised by Stand Up To Racism Birmingham (SUTR), making their fourth group journey to work with and assist refugees struggling in the makeshift French camp.

Among the aims of the delegation was to provide supplies and financial aid to the refugees and to work closely with charities on the ground, including volunteering in the Care4Calais warehouse to sort and organise clothing items which have been collected for those in need.

The delegation also spent time at the library in the camp, aptly named 'Jungle Books’, and went on to join a large meeting within the camp which was attended by refugees from various countries alongside Stand Up To Racism activists from London, Cardiff and Essex.

Many of the 6,000 refugees in the camp hail from Sudan, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Syria; and some of those contained in and restricted to the camp are women and young children.

Geoff Dexter, from Stand Up To Racism Birmingham, travelled with the delegation on this recent visit. He said:

"I've come on this trip to see first-hand what the conditions are like in the Calais ‘Jungle’, and speak with the migrants about their journey to the camp, what conditions they are escaping from in their home countries, and what future they envision.

“Britain needs to deal with the largest refugee migration since the Second World War and encourage citizens to help other humans who are escaping a torrid life, in Britain we have more than enough to go around and we need to discuss the narrative that we have more than enough room for refugees if we used our           resources correctly."

Spoken-word artist Sipho Eric Dube also took part in the visit, on behalf of social enterprise performance arts organisation Beatfreeks, who had raised over £500 to assist the refugees. The Birmingham artist performed an impromptu piece titled ‘Tear Gas’ in front of the recently added Banksy mural of Steve Jobs at the camp.

Volunteer Omara Ashraf, who previously regularly worked with local charity Socks and Chocs, also joined the delegation. She explained:
SUTR volunteer and Beatfreeks artist Sipho Eric Dube (right) with other volunteers in front of Banksy's Steve Jobs in Calais. Photo by Geoff Dexter

“I was horrified by the conditions of the camp. The lack of basic sanitation, the sleeping arrangements, the limited running water and all this is a stone's-throw away from some of the wealthiest places in the world. I am disgusted that over 5,000 people in a 'first-world' country are living in these appalling conditions.

“I was completely overwhelmed by the librarian at Jungle Books who put his arm around me to console me, telling me "don't worry sister", as tears streamed down my face, listening to him talk about his journey from Afghanistan.“

Another man showed us some of the community landmarks including the mosque, the churches and even the nightclub. He then asked us if we would like to see his home and we followed him through the muddy path. His home was a tent that he shared with two others, yet despite this he was adamant that we should have food and drink with him, because, he told us, we were his guests and he wanted to look after us. I won't ever forget the 12 year old boy, with the most beautiful green eyes, asking me if I could take him back with me before telling me that he spoke four different languages.

“From speaking to the guys, it's clear that what they want is not dissimilar to what we all strive for - a safe home, a job, a family and an opportunity to make a better life for themselves. I am grateful for the people that I met who shared their stories with me and reminded me that sometimes a smile or a kind word is all that is needed to make someone feel human. We all have the capacity to start making a difference in the world and make a difference to the lives of others.”

The humanitarian solidarity visit from SUTR Birmingham began on Friday 11th December, with the group returning on Sunday 13th December.


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