Civil servant visits Calais refugee camp

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‘NO ONE should have to experience the conditions that the refugees are living in,’ civil servants union PCS member Wayne Harrison said yesterday after returning from a refugee camp in Calais.

Harrison, a pension administrator for MyCSP in Liverpool, recently travelled to Calais with his vehicle packed full of supplies to help at the camp. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and their families have been forced to flee Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria because of imperialist war.

Harrison spoke about his experiences in Calais: ‘As I set off for Calais with my car full of donations I felt a bit apprehensive about what to expect because of the reports I had seen in the media. As I drove through the main entrance to the camp the road had makeshift structures on either side: there were shops, cafes and even a barber’s. 

‘I had been asked to work in one of the first aid caravans. They are normally staffed by volunteer nurses and doctors from the UK but because they were short-staffed I volunteered. I didn’t even have time to take my coat off before a queue formed at the door. The main thing I had to deal with was flu and cold symptoms.

‘Back home we would nip to the shop or go to our medicine cupboard and sort ourselves out, but the refugees don’t have that luxury. These basic, off-the-shelf medical supplies will always be needed, especially now winter is here. One day I helped distribute waterproof jackets and coats in the pouring rain.

‘A young man that we had given a coat to came over with a note that he’d found in the pocket. It was from the lady that had donated the coat wishing the recipient good luck and warmth from the coat – wrapped in the note was £100. This man, who had nothing other than donated clothes and a tent, tried to give back the money as he couldn’t read the note and thought it was a mistake.

‘We translated it for him and made sure he kept the money. This act of kindness reassured me that there are good people in this world who want to help and support fellow human beings. On one extremely cold day we visited the Sudanese camp with some heaters, sleeping bags and warm clothing. They were very grateful for the supplies we brought and wouldn’t let us leave before they made us some chai tea to thank us.

‘When we left the tent they all stood and applauded to thank us for the work we are doing. It was very humbling. The French government supplies 1,500 hot meals a day to the camp which is great but not enough for the 6,500-7,000 residents. Care4Calais set up a kitchen, the Ashram, which makes 700 hot meals a day.

‘Each meal costs about 50p to make. Along with other free kitchens and what the French government provides, around 50% of residents have at least one hot meal a day. As I left, I felt pleased with what I had done but that it wasn’t enough.’

Calais Action, a grass roots organisation set up by Libby Freeman said: ‘While we were in Calais on Monday we went to meet a 19 year old Syrian boy so he could tell us about his friend who has been hospitalised by the French police in an unprovoked attack. They broke his jaw in two places and knocked his teeth out. After pepper spraying him in the face at 3am after him and his friends tried to return to the camp after trying to get on the trains.

‘They refused to call an ambulance and even after four calls by a volunteer no one came. When a volunteer eventually was able to drive him away the police tried to stop them by hitting the car. In the hospital no one would see him for three hours saying there were no doctors, despite him screaming and covered in blood.

‘He’s been in hospital since. The French police do this because they think they can get away with it but they can’t. We are working to bring this case to the attention of the right people. It is not the first time this has happened and it won’t be the last.’

In Launching an exciting new Christmas Backpack Appeal, Calais Action said: ‘Everything donated is going to be shipped to the Greek island of Samos, where I spent a week volunteering and can attest to the desperate need on the ground.

‘Please see POSTER for the details of WHAT is needed. We will ONLY be accepting things on this list and we request that they are new, or as new. We appreciate that it might prove costly to fill an entire backpack yourself SO we will be accepting individual items from the list BUT we would ask that you bring a “backpack” along with each donation, so we can make up our own.

‘We are delighted to announce the venue for our Christmas backpack appeal drop is the Total Refreshment Centre in Dalston, London. You can drop your backpacks off on 18th/19th/20th December ONLY. Please remember, drops on any other dates will not be accepted. We are strictly only collecting backpacks containing the items on the lists and nothing else.

‘We will also be hosting a Q&A at the venue on Saturday 19th. There will be an expert panel on the day to debate and answer questions. We already have some exciting names confirmed and more to come. Tickets can be brought on the door.’

On Monday Calais Action said: ‘It’s happening!! We’re loading our SECOND aid shipment to Samos tomorrow so it’s all hands to the pump! We’re loading a 40 foot shipping container between 12-3pm at our Crystal Palace warehouse and as all boxes are carried and stacked by hand we”ll need a LOT of hands! Prep from 10, load from 12 Bring a packed lunch with you!!’

• In a victory against the right wing state of Texas Syrian refugees arrived in Texas on Monday after the state backed off in its legal fight to stop them. Twelve Syrians joined their relatives in Dallas and Houston on Monday. Another nine refugees are scheduled to arrive in Houston on Thursday. Texas last week sued the federal government and the International Rescue Committee, the agency bringing a family of six refugees to Dallas.

But on Friday, the state said it no longer wanted an immediate order stopping refugees but would ‘continue its lawsuit’. In an outrageous move, Texan Governors in about 30 states have said they oppose receiving Syrian refugees after the terror attacks in Paris.