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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SAMOS, GREECE

Some more info on our recent trip to Samos:

The town of Samos has around 5,000 people who live there, before we arrived there was perhaps a few 100 refugees and migrants there. They get processed perhaps 100 per day and are able to get ferries to their next destination. More arriving every day and as the ferries were now cancelled due to strikes, (the staff haven’t been paid in six months), numbers were increasing to thousands rapidly. The local islanders have been rallying round doing their best but it was turning into chaos fast as supplies and manpower were low and time to put procedures and order was not abundant. There is a doctor there, with a base, giving medical attention to those that needed it and distributing donations. He had a small team but was coping so well. Also a team of Samaritans, helping all the time. From the minute Louise and I arrived it was a case of trying to prioritise needs and act on them.

Louise Hare and I arrived in Samos island on Tuesday [3rd of November] morning at 7am after travelling from the day before. We went straight to the Mayor’s office as arranged to get instruction on how best we could help. We were told to go straight to rest for a couple of hours as hadn’t slept and were needed at 2pm at the port. We slept a bit, hired a car and headed to the port. From that point we didn’t stop till we got on the plane home again. There were so few volunteers and so many people. We helped organise the food distribution, using a megaphone (with me dictating instructions to a Syrian man who had agreed to help me translate), Louise was helping move everyone into line and pulling children out of the of the way stopping them being crushed. We got the men in one line and woman and children in another. Portions of pasta served, then more food turning up in cars from locals, the pasta soon ran out, then bread and a boiled egg, then biscuits then nothing. This is the point I realised that we could not fix the situation I suppose I always knew we couldn’t but it hit hard turning away hundreds of people that had listened to me pleading to not push, to be patient, to stand in line then to look on their faces as they left hungry with their children. At that point I learnt also never to promise anything, instead saying I will try.

Clare from Calais Action was there to fully inform of us of what the routine of the volunteers was and what was still needed. My priority was now food. We bought some treats for kids, fruit, some shoes and some other small supplies so at least on our return we could help a few.

We joined other volunteers at 11pm to go to the port for blanket distribution. We perhaps only had 40. We all walked round the camp to see how many were needed. At least 60/70 were, Then the awful job of choosing who needed it more, the mother with 2 kids and only one between them or the man still damp from the night before in the sea and a broken leg… We stayed till the wee hours, putting blankets around people again, helping mothers with more than one child crying, doing anything you can to help.

The next day and every day breakfast was served at 8.30am for all the children, this again was provided difficult but at least more nourishing than dinner later. A sandwich, half a piece of fruit and a small cup of milk. Still not enough for them all. This is all organised by local people with local donations and now your donations help this continue.

The days now merge for us into one, the next night we went at 12pm to distribute blankets assessed the situation went to the car and 2 coaches turned up more people with nothing but damp clothes and many requests, we couldn’t help. Only 4 or 5 of us and a handful of blankets. We had to make the decision to leave before the desperation turned into anger.

Claire left, she had told me she had been donating cash to Elena to buy supplies for the local ladies to cook, 9 of them, all with other jobs and kids up at 5am cooking, then distributing it then washing all the pots and pans in the evenings and had been for months. They all look totally exhausted, but do nothing but thank us for help. We looked into many other options, hiring a restaurant, setting up a kitchen but this was by far the cheapest option and so far had been working, we agreed thanks to your kind donations to continue this and donated £2000 to help buy food for them to cook for the next few days . But didn’t solve the problem of that day, so we bought wraps from a local restaurant at one euro each so bought 300 at least it would feed some more. I cant stress enough how many people were in such a small space, all hungry wanting to leave and if they did have money, using what little they had to buy food for them and others.

Two more volunteers arrived. They had cash raised, full of excellent ideas and hired a van, now enabling us as a team to do more. Also frustrating they arrived that day to meet their van which had driven over from the UK full of essential supplies but stuck in Athens due to the ferry strike. They bought wheelchairs for people that desparately needed them and so much more. We along with them paid for a hotel for a family who had lost their 4yr old daughter, moving them from a portacabin. This not only gave them a better environment but for us a cabin so we could now organise that for distribution of aid. It was now a base for all the volunteers.

Friday night the first Ferry arrives it had been a long day and there was a feeling of apprehension in the air and so many more mixed emotions. A thousand people left on that first ferry. We work with Edinburgh Cares taking donations to Macedonia and Croatia so at least again we know we are doing our best for them on their journey forward. Money donated by you helps at these borders giving out food, hats, gloves, shoes and more.

We worked with the port police and army and all other volunteers to manage the 2 ferries coming that night and people going on them. Families who we know lost children at sea, people with no shoes, its between 12am and 4am so may babies crying. All going into the unknown. Once the first ferry left we got sweeping brushes, dust pans and bags out to sweep the port it was a mess as not many bins around to dispose of rubbish. The mayor had organised big bins which were emptied every day. A gynaecologist Syrian friend helped and took all the brushes and swept the entire place asking for more bin bags every half hour, with help from his friends. His shoes didn’t fit, he had no coat and was another person who we met that we will never forget. Your donations bought the brushes and with it dignity and again hope. Also we support the island and help them keep the island clean.

One of the port police asked me to help his colleague at another area. The other volunteers were waiting to drive the van onto the ferry to collect boxes of donations. I went to be surrounded by concerned Syrian men, and the police officer, as a young boy maybe 5yrs old was sleeping on a chair with no one around him. Everyone in the area was asleep. They told me he had arrived the day before and they couldn’t see his parents. I picked him up, he was soaking and cold, wearing clothes and shoes that didn’t fit. I went to get Louise, she ran over and we took him to our portacabin with a Syrian man whom we’d met and spoke English. He took the boy who was now scared and tried to talk to him while we changed him into dry clothes and gave him some biscuits and water. With the other Syrians and police after 2hrs we were able to locate his parents and reunite them.

There are so many more things I could tell you all, some you will find from my updates when I was there, but to summarise. The people arriving there have no idea what to expect when they arrive they presume they will arrive into a humane environment being in the EU, some have money, some have very little. Some were scared to leave the port thinking they could not. Some of them booked hotels and stayed in them to await the end of the ferry strike. Using money they had saved to resettle. I would say almost all of them want to return to Syria one day when there is peace. They have heard they are welcome in some countries in Europe, then they ask why is it so hard, why cant they have safe passage? We all know how desparate the situation is.

After my trip and the work we have all done together I will say this we can give: HOPE.

Humanity
Opportunity
Peace
Equality

And at least try our best to make that sustainable with your help. Please stay involved, generate more support. Re-Act started with one person and now there are many of us, all with no experience on how to help, but we are learning, growing all the time and we are making a difference and giving HOPE.

 

OPOTAVOC, CROATIA

OPOTAVOC, CROATIA

8 October

A 40ft lorry was loaded with supplies including men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and shoes. This was joined by another Arctic loaded with a donation of blankets etc. A number of volounteers from Edinburgh Cares then flew out to Budapest and hired vans. They made continious visits to buy food and water to distribute to the refugees. Working very closely with the Red Cross and the Croatian Police and the Army.

OPOTAVOC, CROATIA

OPOTAVOC, CROATIA

25 – 29 September

This journey to Opotavoc in Croatia started on the 25th of September and returned on the 29th with a total of five vans – including two 7.5 ton lorries. Two vans were taken by members of Re-Act and three we taken by members of Edinburgh Cares, following information gathered by Akeel Umar in conjunction to the previous trips.

Only four vans completed the journey as one van broke down. However, the items that were on that van were not wasted as they diverted to Calais and offloaded donations there. The loads consisted of men’s, women’s and children’s clothes and shoes as well as tents and ground sheets.

The camp  had recently been set-up by the Croatian Army and Police, and was a transit area. Refugees were collected from the boarder at Bapska then processed, given something to eat and then bussed onto the railway station at Tovarnik.

We made contact with a German charity which worked with us to offload all the vans’ contents. These items were distributed the next day to the thousands who came in the busses.

We then went into the local town and visited the local superstore Konzum and Lidl. We bought energy drinks, bananas, energy bars, tins of sardines and tuna. This was bought by donations made to Edinburgh Cares. A total of 65,000 kunas was spent (£6,500) on this food.

We returned to the camp and we were allowed into the camp . Working alongside the Red Cross we  loaded the food into their holding area to be distributed to the refugees.

THE JUNGLE, CALAIS

THE JUNGLE, CALAIS

18 – 22 September

On the 18th of September  a large removal van supplied by Dunbar Removals left East Lothian fully loaded with items for the CalAid warehouse in Slough. All items taken on the trips were put together by memebers of Re-Act with most of the items supplied by Louise and her team in East Lothian and topped up by Edinburgh donations.

A group of five members of Re-Act, two from Edinburgh and three from East Lothian, left the following day along with one transit and one long wheel base IVECO. Supplies taken down included primarily men’s clothing, some women’s clothes, food and tents.

The first day was spent handing out clothes and supplies and getting to know the people in the camp. There were only two recognised agencies within the camp; Medicines sans Frontiers and Doctors of the world. Both were very helpful and gave us very valuable information.

On of the vans returned to Edinburgh on the 21st of September. Three members of the team stayed on, spending time in the camp distributing more supplies. Many valuable lessons were taken on board for any future visits to this area. Now with winter coming and a further camp arising in Dunkirk there is a growing need for more to be done for women and children as they are now coming to the camps in greater numbers