‘WITH our aid, let us through! Refugees are human too!’ hundreds of angry protesters demanded after their 250-vehicle strong Convoy to Calais was blocked by UK police from boarding the ferry at the port of Dover, at the bequest of the French state.
Weyman Bennett, National Organiser of Stand up to Racism told the angry crowd: ‘We just spoke to the commander of the French special forces and he said that there is no way that they are going to let us through. What we have won today is that one of our large lorries filled with aid has gone through on the train.
‘They said that sections of you could be allowed through after your vehicles have been searched, you have been screened, fingerprinted, photographed, identified and checked. This we refuse to do. We are not animals, we will not be screened. It starts with refugees being screened, photographed, fingerprinted and identified and now they want to do the same to us. We are now going back to London to protest outside the French Embassy and dump some of the food that was due to go to the Calais Camp on their steps.’
The 250 vehicles which had made their way from London to Calais were packed full of clothes and food that had been collected for the refugees who are languishing in the refugee camp in Calais. The angry crowd continued their protest, marching on the border post where they were met by a line of police. There was a standoff as protesters shouted: ‘Refugees in! Tories out!’, and ‘Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.’
Daniel Baumont, a student from the University of Creative Arts told News Line: ‘It is a humanitarian crisis, people need aid and we can not get it to them. We want the border open, they are shutting them in our face. Borders are superficial, we are all human beings, borders are for the rich to keep us in.’
Sharmila Goodhur travelled down from Oxford to join the convoy, she told News Line: ‘We got a leaflet at the festival, heard about the Convoy to Calais and decided to join. What is going on with the refugee crisis is right on our doorstep. We spent the last three days buying new waterproofs, tents, roll mats and then they stop us from delivering the aid we have collected and brought. It is outrageous! Refugees have risked their lives to travel across Europe, they have nothing. We need to let them in and welcome refugees into Britain.’
Julian Vaughan from the Unite union said: ‘Our union nationally was a large sponsor for the Convoy to Calais. My branch, which is the London and Eastern region for Legal and advice workers sponsored our vehicle to go on the ferry. We give advice to people from all backgrounds, we have a Spanish speaking advice service and a lot of our workers are from abroad. We need to open up the borders and let the refugees in.
Everyone who enters this country adds value to society. Often people from other countries are fleeing war zones, we need to let them in and support their needs.’
Rolly Buelusa, a student from Westminster University said: ‘I am appalled and disgusted by what has happened here. Ok in France they have a state of emergency, which they claim is because of the terrorist attacks, but we all know that they extended it because of the strikes. However this does not give them the right to block a convoy of aid from getting through to Calais.
‘The UK government is complicit in this. PM David Cameron must be kicked out. This Conservative government do not have the interests of the people at heart, plus they have been attacking the NHS, the welfare state and they demonise refugees.’
Robert Parrish, from Doncaster, who is a member of Unite said: ‘I have come all the way from the north of the country to deliver aid to the camp in Calais. This is crazy, they are letting everyone through except for us, all the football fans and holiday makers are boarding. We are here to deliver aid and they will not let us through.
‘The unions must do more to support refugees. With the EU referendum coming up I am on the side of Leave. Struggle is what brings about change, not a bunch of bureaucratic dictators in Brussels. Look what the European Union is doing to refugees. We need a general strike in this country. In a general strike I would be as close to the front as I could be.’
Asif Bhatti, a bus driver from Hayes garage in west London, in Unite, said: ‘I took the day off today to join this convoy to Calais. This is about human beings in a camp suffering terrible conditions. They have not got a home, they keep getting moved, they are in a camp with no proper facilities, in tents hoping every night it’s not going to rain. The size of the convoy was a surprise to me with over 250 vehicles joining in.
‘Which ever country a person lives, they want to work, send money back home, support their family and at the same time pay their taxes, what is wrong with that? At my bus garage there are quite a few nationalities working there. It is great, we learn and understand about each others backgrounds and cultures. If there is a strike everyone comes out together no matter what their background.’
Andrianna Sotiris from Haringey college said: ‘I am a Greek Cypriot, my entire family are refugees from Cyprus and it does not feel right to leave other refugees behind. Borders should be abolished. Free movement for everyone!’
The Convoy assembled at 8.30am that morning and stretched the entire length of Whitehall. At a rally outside Downing Street Mandy Brown from the UCU said: ‘This Tory government is cutting ESOL (English for Students of Other Languages). How can they cut English courses for those who need to learn English the most.
‘We refute the likes of Cameron who blame refugees for everything. He has cut education, he has cut the NHS, he is closing down libraries, the problem is Cameron’s cuts. How dare he blame refugees for the problems of his own creation. Ultimately our aim is to shut down the camps in Calais and bring all the refugees here.’
John Reese from Stop the War addressed the rally, he said: ‘This is about delivering aid to desperate refugees. Refugees who have seen their lives destroyed by war, seen their homes destroyed and are now living in disgraceful conditions in the camp in Calais.
‘Blocking refugees from coming into the UK is a racist policy. This government needs to stop pretending that the ordinary people of this country are racist and do not want refugees in the UK. That is true of the government it is not true of the majority of people in Britain. Human beings have always travelled from the moment they could stand upright. They have always fled war, now they have been met with razor wire, border police, checkpoints and borders.’
Michelline Ngongo, who was a refugee from Congo and is now the Labour councillor for Hillrise Ward in Islington north London told the rally: ‘We have to shame the French government. Shame on them! Why have they banned us to go and visit the refugees? Why? I will tell you, because the French government are doing nothing to help them. I want to send a message to the French government. You are a disgrace!’
Lawyer, Sophie Rafiq told News Line: ‘I came here today to deliver basic of food and clothing to the refugees. They need these items, they are essential and they have the right to these items. As an EU country we need to treat all humans with dignity and respect and not treat them with inhumane and degrading treatment. That is the reason why I have came here today; to provide them with the fruition they require.
‘What these governments are doing is inhumane. We are not violent. There’s has been not violence at all, there was not violence planned. The football hooligans are passing the borders freely. There is a lot of violence in the media in relation to the football and there is no violence from us. We are just going to deliver aid. We are doing a charitable cause.
‘We are all volunteers, it is charitable what we are doing and we are not violent, we are all professionals, sensible people. There has been no violence apart from the police. They are pushing and shoving people. I said, I am a lawyer, can you tell me the reason, the grounds on which you are stopping this aid. And they said to me, you would have to speak to the French authorities. He pointed me to the direction of the French authorities box.
‘I went towards the French authorities box, and I asked the police man in front of it politely, can I please speak to the French authorities? We need to know the grounds, we need to challenge this in the European courts and we need to get justice for ourselves and for the refugees.
‘However, what they actually did, they started pushing me and said you are not allowed. I wasn’t violent; I approached them in a very professional manner. I asked them in a very polite manner, we need to know – our rights are being taken off us.
‘We have free movement of the person. As a British citizen, I should be allowed to cross that border and this is being stopped, and they will not give us any reason to why this is being stopped.
‘They are doing something which is totally illegal.It is against human rights, against the policies between the UK and France and I don’t see why it has only happen here. We are only delivering aid, nothing else. We are going to help people. There are doctors here, there are lawyers here, we are going to help the people, and this is being stopped.
‘I also asked the police what they were actually doing in here…and they said they are protecting a private port. So I said, it is the public police protecting a private port. This does not make sense. I think they should let us into France to deliver aid to the people who are in need of aid. The people are dying, they are ill. They don’t have food they don’t have clean water, clothing. We need to go and deliver aid to the refugees.
‘I think capitalism is bad, I think what they are trying to do is take control of the people who don’t have money, and don’t have food. So it is the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Capitalism is a system for the super-rich,’ Sophie Rafiq concluded.