18 Nov

CALAIS

Dave and I left the Broxburn warehouse in my van at around 8pm on Friday 13th November. We were about 45 mins behind Thorfinn and his horsebox, which was a larger vehicle. We hoped to catch up with on the way down. Our loads were predominently tents, sleeping bags, blankets, waterproofs, underwear and socks as well as some other clothing and cooking utensils etc. We were on the M6 at Carlisle when we got a phone call telling us of the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and the subsequent uncertainty of the ports being open to take us to Calais. We also heard that part of the Jungle was on fire and so we decided to continue regardless as our cargo of tents, sleeping bags and blankets, as well as many other essential items was now in even greater need by those affected by the fire. We arrived uneventfully at Dover with about an hour to spare.

On the ferry crossing I was delighted to see a friend of mine, Jane from Oxford, on her way to volunteer for a few days at the same Calais warehouse that our aid was destined for. She had some friends with her too and it was so heart warming to see friends of mine making this journey to help out. Once in Calais we headed directly to the warehouse. We drove right past the Jungle on the way there. It was much bigger than I had imagined and gave me an idea of the scale of the Calais crisis.  On arrival at the warehouse it took several hours to unload the vans due to the sheer bustle of the place and the awful weather. We halted unloading several times to allow other smaller deliveries in to unload and during one of these pauses I went to see where our help could be utilised later on.

Food was in short supply, and so I called home to Re-Act and asked if we could spare some funds to buy some supplies, that was quickly agreed and a shopping list was formulated. We jumped into Thorfinn’s now mostly empty horsebox and headed for the Metro cash and carry as Dave had a card for the UK equivelant, Makro. “Great!”, we thought, this will help loads, but alas, Metro had closed at 1pm and wasn’t open the next day (Sunday) either. Supermarkets just don’t have enough stock when you’re trying to buy non perishable food for thousands and time was against us for unloading so we decided to abort our shopping mission and head back to the warehouse figuring something out in the evening. I spoke to two lovely volunteers, Hannah and Sarah, the warehouse coordinator. Between us we discussed what was most needed from aid runs from Re-Act and I took a note of it all. It was now time to head to the hotel and rest as light was fading and I had been awake and on the go for around 36 hours at that point.

In my van I also had some boxes of books for the Jungle Library, [from LIVED, a Scottish charity affiliated with the University of Edinburgh that aims at shedding light on the experiences of school-aged refugee children around the world], and some signage that was destined for the Jungle. It was my intention to deliver these directly to the people needing them but time was running out for the day. I would try to put them in the charge of someone who knew exactly what to do with them in the morning.

Over dinner we planned to get as much food as we could from a supermarket on the way over to the warehouse in the morning and then and then try to get some more reliable contact numbers for longer term volunteers there. Communications with the warehouse were difficult before the trip and I felt this would help the increase the effectiveness of our efforts to be able to talk to the current warehouse coordinators and take the right things down. Our ferry was in the morning but we were able to get a later one at 13:30 as we had a flexi ticket. This gave us time to go to a supermarket and get back to the warehouse to drop the food off, the books and signage and get my contacts. I felt like I needed to stay longer to help more but couldn’t. I returned to Scotland knowing that our aid is making a diference, but that also at the same time it’s just a tiny sticking plaster on a huge and nasty wound. The ferry back was a wild ride, very windy with rough seas. Later on I heard that some ferries were cancelled due to the weather so we were lucky to leave when we did. We arrived back in the Edinburgh area at around 2am after convoying up the road. Tired, but happy that we’d done something worthwhile. I look forward to my next oppourtunity to take aid South.

If you haven’t yet gotten involved to help out the biggest displacement of humans since world war two I absolutely implore you to do so. In future years when your grand children ask “What did you do for the refugees?” Please don’t be one who answers “not much actually, it didn’t really affect us”. It’s our duty as people who can help, to help in whatever capacity that is. Be that a few pounds in money donations, giving or collecting aid donations or as physical help with sorting, packaging or distributing. It all helps people and you can do your bit and take pride in that. A lot of people have asked me “why do you do this?”, “doesn’t it seem pointless?”. I tell them that if we save even one person from dying in the cold and wet then it’s far from pointless. I’d like to think our little trip this weekend will save a hundred or so people from being out in the elements and get them some more appropriate clothes to wear in the changing season. That’s not everyone by any stretch, but it’s a start and it perhaps gives hope to those who we couldn’t help this time.

Thorfinn adds:

Just got back from trip to Calais in the trusty horsebox assisting ‘Re-Act, Refugee Action Scotland’ with a load of donations for refugees in ‘The Jungle’. As can be imagined, to find out at one in the morning about the atrocities in Paris was somewhat disconcerting. The atmosphere at Dover was surreal as it was, by normal standards, virtually empty but at least it made for a smooth passage. The scene at the organising and distribution warehouse was a bit overwhelming but our donations of sleeping bags and tents were whisked off for direct delivery to the camp. Food being prepared for the camp was running out. We offered to find and purchase food in bulk but Metro (Makro), the main wholesaler, was closed for the weekend. We did, however, pick up a few trolley loads Sunday morning from Carrefour but it is like trying to stem blood from a severed limb with a sticking plaster. Things are pretty horrible there and with cold and wet weather and the likely fall out from events in Paris, are not going to get better. There are now approximately 7,000 denizens and as one of the Customs officers observed on our return there is no political will to try and solve the situation any time soon.

To finish on a lighter note, if you ever want to frighten Her Majesties Revenue and Custom Officers simply, on being ordered to let down the ramp to rear of horsebox, lower it until a third of the way down and then warn them that the horse is about to bolt! Their faces were a wonder to behold as they scarpered from the virtual beast. Fortunately the lovely lady in charge had a sense of humour.

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