Carlisle Refugee Action Group

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Contact us

PLEASE VISIT CRAG’S NEW WEBSITE: http://www.carlislerefugeeactiongroup.org.uk/

Email: agill.cowc@gmail.com
Facebook Group: Carlisle Refugee Action Group

Carlisle Refugee Action Group and its activities are backed by Carlisle One World Centre who have set up a ‘MyDonate’ page to finance transport and other costs:

Links to media coverage
Feature in The Cumberland News Friday 22nd January 2016
Article in The News on Star on Tuesday 19th January 2016
Reports from Calais – BBC Radio Cumbria Breakfast Show Monday 30th November
Reports from Calais – BBC Radio Cumbria Evening Show Monday 30th November
Coverage of departure of volunteers and truck for Calais – ITV Border News Friday 28th Nov
Departure of volunteers for Calais – News and Star Friday 27th November
Young Quakers Walk – Cumberland News Friday 20th Nov
Sending tents and sleeping bags through Glasgow group – News and Star Monday 16th Nov
ITV Border News Tuesday 6th October

Update 26 June 2016
In the run up to Refugee Week next week www.refugeeweek.org.uk, here is some up to date information about Carlisle Refugee Action Group (CRAG) and its’ members

Donations from Carlisle since August 2015

TO CALAIS AND DUNKIRK
CLOTHES: 12 tonnes – men, women, including shoes and boots
FOOD: around 500 individual meals as well as supplies for the Ashram Kitchen including rice, chick peas, coffee, tea, spices, tomatoes etc
SLEEPING BAGS: 200-250
RUCKSACKS: 150-180 various sizes
DUVETS: 60
CARAVANS: we have been involved in sending 6 caravans to Calais.

TO SYRIA
TOILETRIES: 300 kg
CLOTHES: 1.5 tons of men, women and baby clothes

TO GREECE
SHOES AND BOOTS: 2 pallets

Volunteers have continued to make regular visits taking much needed supplied and expertise (especially in building shelters). Some have committed to long term stays helping to organise volunteers, warehouses and running projects.

Sarah Wilson from Renwick, Penrith, has set up the Dunkirk Adult Learning Centre, run out of a refugee shelter on the Dunkirk camp but growing from strength to strength since the end of 2015. The centre supports men and women, mainly from Kurdistan, Northern Iraq, with basic French and English skills and they also have a chance to socialise and develop their self-esteem.

Sarah and other volunteers from Cumbria are taking part in the Convoy to Calais which is a large scale transportation of items and volunteers as a show of solidarity to refugees this weekend.

In Carlisle, returned volunteers from the Carlisle Refugee Action Group are joining Carlisle One World Centre staff and volunteers in running an interactive exhibition that has been developed by Global Link Development Education Centre in Lancaster.

Escape to Safety is a series of rooms that are going to be constructed in a classroom at William Howard School with the aim of taking students and members of the public on a journey to simulate aspects of the modern refugee experience. It starts in their homelands and ends in accommodation in the UK. Wearing a headset and holding travel documents, those who pass through the exhibition will hear, feel, see and come to understand a little more about what these journeys can entail. It even includes a citizenship test. WHS students and local primary schools, will be visiting the exhibition between Tuesday 21st and Tuesday 28th of June and it will be open to the public from 7-9pm on Wednesday 22nd June.

Update 4 March 2016
Carlisle Refugee Action Group Project volunteers and supporters respond to the demolition of camps

Volunteers from North Cumbria are working on the ground in Calais and Dunkirk to support refugees and help manage the change that this week’s demolition of shelters and services has brought about.

David Hayward from Brampton and Sarah Wilson from Penrith have already spent several weeks in the region. David has been working in construction and is currently working on the new Medecins Sans Frontieres camp near Dunkirk. Sarah works with the women and children, teaching English and supporting them with social activities and will be helping with the move of that camp next week.

In Carlisle, representatives of the Calais Action Carlisle group have sent additional emergency donations to funds in Calais that can buy food, firewood and sleeping bags for those who have been made homeless from the loss of their homes and shelters.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by the blatant disregard for human rights that the French authorities are showing by demolishing the camp leaving people who are already traumatized with nowhere to go. The French authorities have broken their promises to manage the eviction of camps in a humane way. We strongly urge Cumbrian people to directly lobby their MPs asking for human rights to be upheld, particularly with regard to the children who have family in the UK and need to be reunited with them. This problem is not going to go away. All the European countries affected need to work together to help these vulnerable people.”
Sky Higgins, co-ordinator

Members of the public can donate to the Carlisle Refugee Action Group to help us send more supplies at this difficult time through the My Donate link on the Carlisle One World Centre website https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/carlisleoneworldcentre. Future awareness and fundraising events are planned in the next month including a talk by recently returned volunteers “From Carlisle to Calais” on the 14th of April at the Church of Scotland at 7pm.

Flight by Gillian Naylor
Flight by Gillian Naylor

Giclee prints of an original painting by local artist, Gillian Naylor, are being sold to raise funds for Carlisle Refugee Action Group. Flight was painted in response to the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing their homeland.

Gillian says “Migration is a natural response to changes in circumstance. People move to keep alive in times of scarcity or persecution. We all want to keep our families safe, warm and fed. I cannot imagine what it must be like having to leave everything you call home and then to have to live in tents in a field of mud. It must be soul destroying.”

The mounted print is on sale for £45. It costs £15 to reproduce and will fit into a 20″ x 16” frame which can be purchased locally for under £10. £30 from the sale will go to the work of Calais Action Carlisle – collecting and sending aid to refugees staying in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk in Northern France and to other parts of Europe and the Middle East.

Flight will be on display at an exhibition about the European Refugee Crisis in Carlisle library from Monday 25th January. For further information and to order a print contact Carlisle One World Centre on 07881488566 or email agill.cowc@gmail.com

Update 14 January 2016
Volunteers are improving the lives of refugees living in the Calais area and further afield by continuing to sort and donate clothing and shelter items.

This week, two groups of volunteers from Carlisle and North Cumbria have been working in the Dunkirk camps, helping to build shelters and set up activities for women and children who have travelled from war zones in the Middle East and North Africa to find safety in Europe. Each trip has not only brought down skilled personnel but also tents, sleeping bags and shelter items.

The group is also packing warm clothes to send to groups helping recently arrived refugees in Greece and will be sending children’s clothing and other items directly to Syria in a delivery leaving the UK next week.

The project has now raised over £6,000 through fundraising events and the BT Mydonate page. This money has helped with the costs of some of the volunteer trips and all the deliveries of aid as well as storage and other direct costs. Future awareness and fundraising events are planned.

Reports from Calais Trip 28th – 30th November 2015
On Friday 27th November 9 volunteers and a truck of aid left Carlisle for The Jungle in Calais to deliver the food, clothes and shelter items and to work in the warehouse and on the camp for three days. The following day another truck and two caravans driven by more volunteers joined the group. Over four tonnes of aid from Cumbria and South West Scotland was going to make a real difference to hundreds of the men, women and children living in limbo in North France.

On this trip Calais Action Carlisle worked in partnership with the groups Alston Moor Solidarity with Refugees and Massive Outpouring of Love – Dumfries and Galloway Refugee Action (MOOL) on the collection and delivery of aid.

Here is a link to an excellent video with clips and photos of the trip

Day by day reports from the trip starting with the first day of work are below.
Written by Sky Higgins

Day 1 Saturday 28th November

Days volunteering at Calais are long. Today felt like several rolled into one. A lot has happened and happily most of it went as planned. We reported to the warehouse for 9am (5 minutes late we managed re-enact the embarrassing drive of shame we did last time through the circular group briefing that starts at 9am!) As can be seen from the photos, the place is huge, but still not big enough for all the people and donations it houses. That said, things run short. We could not find any men’s gloves for the packs we started making up. I was sure we had some arriving from Cumbria shortly in our HGV.

Apparently there were very few people in during the week, but this morning there were a good 60 or more volunteers, both old-timers and first timers working together. After miserable rain the night before it was lovely and sunny – which was great as I was worried our food parcels might collapse if we tried to move or distribute them in the wet.

Our HGV arrived like clockwork at 10am…and we began the task of carefully unloading and making sure items went where they were needed. We emptied the truck, filling our minibus between the seats with food and presents to go into the camp…..somewhere in all this we managed to identify and rescue a coat from Cumbria donated in error before it disappeared into the warehouse.

After sorting the driver with his return fuel in the baffling maze that is the Calais industrial estate I came back to the warehouse to find that two of our number had been whisked to the camp to work on building shelters and that our BBC Radio crew had arrived and were busy interviewing various volunteers in the warehouse. They had arranged to cover our trip and had travelled over separately. After a hot lunch brought over from the kitchen in the camp we squeezed the BBC crew in with us the food and presents in the minivan and headed to the camp to deliver the food.

There are more police than last time, standing sentinel all around the camp, and with blue light flashing, but they didn’t stop us on our way in. Arriving in a van as soon as you pull up the camp residents start asking ‘line?’ meaning should they form a line for us to give out donations. This time our cargo was destined for the camp kitchen so we had to disappoint them. It’s hard, saying no, not today – tomorrow. I guess they hear that a lot, and probably don’t often see people again. It’s hard to keep promises in the jungle as plans change so much, and short term volunteers like us are not always best placed to decide how and who to help. We look to those working longer term to tell us how we can help rather than add to problems in the camp.

We took the food to the kitchen with the help of a human chain that formed. Our reporter friends managed to speak to some founder members of the kitchen and long term volunteers. I was glad, as they were far better placed to give insight into the camp rather than us. I had a lot of reservations about taking press with us. Being radio it was less invasive and they were being really sensitive to the environment they were working in whilst at the same time managing to hear from a lot of people in the camp. At the end of the day the story needs to keep coming through. The problem of Calais is only growing…and the wilful inaction of both of both UK and French government is not doing either country any good, let along the residents of the jungle stuck in the middle of a political and humanitarian nightmare not of their making.

By this point it was getting late in the day and we felt we were in the way so we headed back to the warehouse. We arrange to come back the next day and help out more. You do feel that without a role you can be in the way, or worse, a kind of disaster tourist. It had been a chance for the group to see the camp and get a feel for what to expect when helping out there. Back in the warehouse the atmosphere was a lot busier…it was getting dark and people seemed to be stressed. We stayed till 5 then headed back – though they were open till 6.30 I felt a full 8 hour day with not much break was more than enough. It’s tiring both physically and psychologically.

Tomorrow…..we have more volunteers joining us who are bringing caravans down from Cumbria and Scotland – and more stuff, driving overnight. As I write this it’s raining again and if it continues it will be a muddy day in the camp. Hopefully our builders can continue with their work – they created a sturdy wood shelter today and plan more tomorrow. We hope to find homes for the presents we have brought and take donations into the camp where they are needed. At this stage I hope the volunteers have an idea of what goes on, and decide where their energies are best placed, and there are ample opportunities to opt in for different tasks in the morning.

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Day 2 Sunday 29th November

Another long day – and I’m even struggling to remember all the things we did. The days are so full, everyone is rushing here. The need seems so urgent – whether to sort the mountains of donations in the warehouse, or in camp, to help all the people who need so many things. This morning we at least made it to the morning briefing, in time for allocation of tasks. We were expecting our caravans and another load today, this time from Dumfries – they arrived at ten and a lot of time was spend unloading. It was really heartening to deliver trolley after trolley into the warehouse full of sleeping bags and the tents received a cheer as they went in so great is the need. As fast as they arrive they are taken out to the camp.

On the advice of some seasoned volunteers we went into the camp looking for communal areas to offer our kits for cooking – pots pans and utensils for groups cooking together. This was tough – walking round the camp which is essentially a rubbish tip, looking for those in most need. People should not be living like this – it’s a crushing and degrading place to live – amongst rubbish, faeces and brambles, with a gale blowing, half the tents collapsed. People huddling inside their tents. For some people we were bringing what they needed, but other were asking for food, clothes, shoes – often wearing just flip-flops. It’s so hard saying no, sorry, we just have pots and pans.
One Eritrean youth walked a long way back with us to get pots and pans for him and his friends. He was calm and well-spoken. He said he liked English people as there were so many helping in the camp. He wondered why there were not many French people helping in the camp. I had to tell him not all English people this nice – but the ones who are make up for those who are not. He’s been here three days. When he got to the van I remembered that we had gift boxes made up from a church in Carlisle and gave him some that were labelled for adult men – I don’t even know what was in them but hopefully some things he might need.

I got talking to a volunteer in the camp and he asked me if I knew anyone who could volunteer there long term – he said long term volunteers can make a lot of difference…I said I’d do what I could to spread the word. I’ve come across several people here who have come for a weekend, promptly gone home quit their jobs and returned to the Jungle to stay, so great is the need. I take my hat off to them and it certainly seems that without the long term people to put systems in place, and direct those who can only spare a few days, the camp would be even more of a confusing place than it already is.

In the midst of this we came across a dome that housed an art exhibition – from the camp residents. There were photos and captions on display and one stood out of a metal canister, the question underneath – “tear gas – why?” This is what is faced by the camp residents after dark, when most of the volunteers have left for the day, and the police action gets ramped up.

We came across our builder team, who were on their second day of structure building while in the camp, and doing a great job despite the wind and mud.

Back at the warehouse we headed to the food area and began bagging up essentials – there are not enough volunteers getting supplies into the camp so with a bit of initiative we tried to mirror our food parcels, which had taken us weeks back home, in the last hours of the day. Rice, chickpeas tomatoes beans, spices, onions garlic veg and few snacks – anymore and the bags would rip. That at least would feed a couple of people. We got past fretting whether they were all the same, as it got darker we just made as many as we could and filled the last rows of seats in the minibus. In the morning we plan to go to the supermarket and get some fresh fruit, veg and bread and hand them out. It seems like a drop in the ocean but it’s all we can do.

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Day 3 Monday 30th November

I woke up today feeling like I’d been beaten all over…and was puzzled at first – the mind is so busy when you are involved here that you overlook the actual physical work that takes place, loading, unloading, lifting, when I actually reflected on everything I’d done over the previous days it is not surprising every muscle ached.

Today was a Monday and as I’d been told there were a lot less volunteers…those who’d come for the weekend having departed. We collected the usual crew, plus a couple of strays (one Texan who’d come all the way over to help out) and headed for the warehouse. We had our food parcels and after a morning of helping out with the mountains of donations, plus making more food bags we were set for a food distribution.

The warehouse was becoming more organised…even since my last visit and over the last days shelves and signs go up, items get sorted – but it’s evident they desperately need more people, especially long term or week-day volunteers and more vehicles to get stuff onto site where its needed. You need to know what you’re doing though…hundreds of hungry or cold people needing food or clothing can be hard to manage so the stuff gets out in a fair and peaceful manner. Some distributions go well but some don’t. We found some seasoned volunteers and prepared for our food distribution. I lost track of how many bags we’d made…somewhere between 70 and 100. We took 9 people, and 2 vans and headed into the camp. Distributions work by asking camp residents to form a line and handing out the bags one by one. With the help of our leaders ours went according to plan, but there was still a long line left when the bags were gone….no matter how many you make there are always many who miss out.

We had cash due to the generosity of those of you here in Cumbria who had donated, so we asked about getting fresh food to camp, and it was suggested we get food for a kitchen that would feed 300 people. Eggs, carrots, bread and fresh tomatoes. It was getting late so we did a trolley dash to a local supermarket and got what was needed, trying to guesstimate quantities for that amount of people. We wanted to get it onto camp before dark and only just managed this with the short days.

Our building crew were working into the dark to get their last shelter done…we bumped into them as we left camp, as well and Stuart from Dumfries who seemed to pop up everywhere with his sturdy van. We left them to get a lift back to the hostel separately. Back at the warehouse we said our goodbyes – people already talking about coming back and what we could do or bring to help in future.

So our trip ends as we head home tomorrow. Between us there has been a lot done, and amazing efforts from the Cumbrian team in what has been 3 days of tiring and often stressful situations. I’m so proud of them all for mucking in, driving, building, taking instruction, using initiative and working together and looking out for each other. It has not been a trip for the fainthearted and everyone has risen to the challenge with amazing spirit and resilience.

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Update on 23rd November and Report on Recent Calais Trip
The main Carlisle to Calais trip will take place this weekend.
A truck will be loaded up with several tonnes of food, shelter items and clothing from all over North and West Cumbria and also from the Dumfries area on Friday 27th November. A team of 14 volunteers will also be leaving from Carlisle at 9am.
They will travel to Calais where they will handover the items to the main distributing groups and spend three days helping out at the camps there.

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Report of October trip by James Cartwright – Read at Brickyard fundraising gig on 12th November

“So here we are in the middle of November. Three months ago, Hazel and Gramo set off for Calais with a vanful of supplies needed by what was then 3000 refugees in the camp they call “The jungle”. Since we visited the now 7,000 residents in October I can’t bring myself to call it “The Jungle” any more than I’d talk about a home that had made me welcome as a hovel. It’s a town. It’s built of tents, tarpaulins and scrag-ends of timber. It’s welcoming. And its all they have.

The first signs that nothing in the camp is ever easy came on the way down, with a message that the French riot police had started putting up roadblocks at the entrances. A bit panicky, we got in touch with our contacts who told us that this was just the latest wheeze dreamed up by the authorities, and not to worry. They were right. We drove into the camp on Monday morning, parked up to see where the caravan was going, and watched vanloads of the CRS, the French Riot Police troop past and start to block an entrance we’d already driven through. These petty games are just part of life in the camp. But they’re not always petty. They’re often cruel and inhumane. While we were there, there was talk of refugees being arrested miles from the camp, and having their shoes confiscated before being released. Recently we have learned that the CRS have upped their game. Hundreds of refugees have been taken from Calais by private jet, flown to the other side of France and released with nothing but the clothes they stand in. It’s not hard to imagine what happens next. They slowly return to what they know, to Calais again, more tired and distressed than before.

We heard our own terrible stories. Saw people with terrible injuries, who had been too afraid to attend a hospital with a broken leg for fear they’d be finger-printed and therefore never able to seek asylum anywhere else. And a part of me desperately wishes many would seek asylum in France, rather than risk their lives on nightly walks to the port or the railway-line. We met a Kosovan who is still recovering from his leg-injuries three months after trying to get on board a train. It’s easy to see how. Newcomers often target trucks as their route to Britain, unaware that they will almost never get past the x-ray machines and sniffer-dogs. After a while, they turn to the trains. Occasionally they might access the railway line at a point where a train moves slowly enough to jump aboard, then slide down to the undercarriage and cling on for 20 miles. More often than not, they try to jump. To drop onto a moving train, hoping to miss overhead power-cables as they go. Our Kosovan friend’s first attempt was thwarted when someone else didn’t make it past the power-lines.

But Britain still appeals to many. While out fixing up tents with tarpaulins to give extra protection from the rain, a group of Iraqi Kurds got chatting to Jess and were soon making cups of tea for us all and generously, bizarrely and painfully threading Alex’s sideburns for free! These were resourceful people – You have never seen a fire so efficiently used to boil a kettle! And they were regular people…wanting arm-wrestles, and jeering when one of the group got a phone call fom his girlfriend back home. One of the group was married, with a wife and child in Britain. He had fled under Saddam Hussein’s regime, then after Saddam was toppled he went back to re-build a life a for his new family there. As Iraq fell apart again, he discovered he hadn’t spent long enough in the UK to be allowed to return. He had tried to the right thing…been taken in when in need, then given up that hospitality when he thought it was no longer needed. Now he is separated from his family by cruel, unfeeling borders. He’s got this far. I doubt any number of high-voltage lines, bitter-cold nights or threats from the police will stop him trying to return his family. This amazing group, who simply wanted new friends to chat to also insisted on feeding us. They share a kitchen area (a tarpaulin held over a fire and a few logs to sit on). They pool food supplies to cook rice and beans for about twenty of their group, and insisted on sharing their meal with us. One of our work-group that day, back from seeking out an unaccompanied child in the camp that she had met previously got talking to one of the Iraqis. He didn’t even want to go to Britain particularly. People-smugglers had got him this far, he had no links with the UK, but simply had no idea how to seek asylum in France. With any luck, our French friend’s advice mean that he is now in the system.

Though that can mean a year, unsupported by the state, which is how so many long-term camp-residents come to be there. You’ll have heard of the restaurant-shacks, the shops in camp (because many refugees do still have some money with them. They worked before fleeing their homelands, and have savings. It’s just that those savings won’t last long if they have to live off them continually in France.). These businesses are often run by people already seeking asylum who, outrageously are unable to work AND unable to access any state funds for the year or so they have to wait for a decision.

The reason for telling you all this is to illustrate that not everyone’s story is the same. There is no one reason why people find themselves in the camp. There are any number of different, harrowing stories. And it is not a camp of angels either. There are con-men and thieves. Organised groups who try to monopolise the queues for aid distribution, then sell on what they don’t want. A minority who, as in the UK get more than their fair share of news coverage.

Through all this, most people are positive. Hopeful that one day, life will be better than this. Partly because they have made it this far, and partly, I think, because people keep turning up to offer them physical and moral support.
Sky, Alex, Jess and I headed down to Calais with three jobs to do. One was to take a caravan to the camp so that one more family could get off the ground before winter and have a hard roof over their heads. This was one of 43 caravans now on site. Seven of these are used as clinics and dentists, and the rest are bundled with families. When a new caravan arrives, two families in need will often share a caravan initially. Like so much about this situation, it is at the same time positive and awful. Their gratitude at having a four-berth caravan to share between 10 people is overwhelming. Tomorrow, another three are being towed from Glasgow and one is stopping at Calais Action Carlisle to pick up literally a tonne of tents, blankets and sleeping-bags that you donated. By Sunday, they will be being handed out to newly-arrived camp-residents who will more than likely have walked across Europe, and be hungry, cold, tired and scared.

There are often reports that the warehouse is full…that they don’t need more aid. That can change quickly. Wind, mud, and sewage-floods in the camp can soon put paid to all of yesterday’s belongings.
In Calais some of us spent a day working for an incredible British volunteer who lives in the camp, so that he is able to greet these new arrivals, night or day, and help them settle into a field that may be their home for a week if they’re lucky, or for months if not. Ideally, when people arrive at night, He will have a sleeping-bag set up in a “hotel tent”, that they can rest in until they find their way around life in the camp, work out where to try and get a hot meal, and where to get hold of basic necessities like their own tent, a change of clothes or a pair of shoes to replace the flip-flops they’ve won since Greece.

Life in the camp has become more bleak of late. This week has seen three nights of teargas fired indiscriminately into the camp, while men women and children slept and protestors shot with rubber-bullets. There’s no use in a police-warning to stay inside your homes when trouble flares, if your only shelter is a sheet of weather-worn plastic. On Tuesday a water-cannon was brought in, though thankfully has not yet been used. For months my last thought as I pull the duvet over me has been for those in the camp, with a tent for shelter against the cold and the rain. Now it is as if it has been decided that their life is not harsh enough.

I…we…disagree. Our new neighbours have been through enough. We are not allowed to offer them homes. We have been told that Britain can’t help them. And again, we disagree. Everyone here tonight, 400 members of Calais Action Carlisle, thousands of people in Britain…disagree. We will find ways to help. As some groups have their vehicles searched and passports briefly held on their way to France, as a Government tells us that the only way to save lives is to stop pulling drowning children out of the Mediterranean, As the French Riot Police dream up new rules to restrict volunteers delivering food and clothing to cold, hungry people in winter…We will continue to think of them each night as our head hits the pillow, and one-by-one to make them feel warmer, safer and more loved than yesterday. We will continue to make a tiny difference, along with thousands of others making tiny differences to thousands of people in Calais, throughout Europe, in Syria and on our own doorstep for those who make it this far. As for how we do it…It starts with offering to help. Offering to play at a gig like tonight. Offering to fold and sort jumpers in Carlisle. Or in Calais. There is a way that everyone can help make these tiny, crucial differences. Please just ask what you can do.”

Brickyard 12th Nov

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Update on 3rd November – Report on first trip to Calais 25th – 29th October 2015

How did we help?
• Delivered a donated caravan for “Caravans for Calais” so that a family of 8 could move the women and children out of timber/plastic shack the size of a family-tent and under a hard roof.
• Handed over a donated bicycle to a brilliant long-term volunteer who had a resident lined up to receive it.
• Brought blankets for the “new arrivals” store, so that people have at leas something to help them keep warm on their first night in Calais.
• Picked up litter (in a camp with one toilet per 600 residents, this is a more challenging job than you might think. Credit to Jess and Alex for diving into this task!), and help organise the Medecins Sans Frontieres rubbish-collection points with a team from North Wales.
• Helped sort donations in the warehouse
• Helped transfer goods from the old warehouse, and tidy it up before it was handed back to the landlord.
• Helped distribute shoes to residents in the camp.
• Spent a day using tarpaulins to repair/reinforce tents and communal cooking-areas, aided by two volunteers from France and Denmark.
• Listened to refugees’ stories of where they came from, what they’ve been through and their hopes for the future.
• Helped seek out families and individuals who struggle to get to the official distribution-queues by fetching them the basic items they need just tosurvive in the camp.

What did we see?
• Heartbreaking living conditions – People ridiculously grateful to trade their flip-flops for a pair of second-hand shoes, or to have a bit of plastic sheeting pegged over the leaking festival-tent that is their only home.
• Gorgeous children, tragically hardened by all they have seen and experienced on a journey no-one of any age should have to make.
• Deliberate ignorance – Imagine a community of 6000 people in the UK where unaccompanied children as young as 12 were left to fend for themselves for food and shelter, without any interest from the authorities. The authorities can’t NOT know about life in the camp (they only need ask the riot police who march around the place all day with their cellophane-wrapped boots, rubber suits and tear-gas launchers – reminiscent of something from a low-budget sci-fi film).
• Pain – Residents nursing terrible injuries from their attempts to complete their journeys (often trying to return to their families who already live in the UK. We met Dads who haven’t seen their own children for years due to the cold, arbitrary nature of immigration laws. A whole different kind of pain) who are too afraid to go to hospital out of fear of the French authorities.
• Shock – walking through the camp with a French volunteer (a social worker who helps troubled teens, so not easily shocked!) who simply could not believe that she was still in France.
• Hope – undimmed by the desperate situation they are in.
• Generosity – while fixing tents, a group of Iraqi Kurds made us cups of tea and later insisted on feeding us as they prepared a communal meal for a bout 20 of them. There was never even a hint of wanting anything in return other than company.
• Love – Well over a hundred volunteers giving their time, energy and attention to help however they can, be it sorting shoes, seeking out people in need to provide them with what they need, building timber shelters, cooking for a thousand people, living on site so that night-time arrivals to the camp have a contact who can find them shelter, a blanket and a tin of rice-pudding to see them through their first night. An incredible effort that simply should not be needed.
• Friendship – So many unforgettable new friends, both volunteers and residents of the camp.

We are better informed now regarding how to achieve the best outcome from Calais Action Carlisle’s November’s convoy. You’ve already done the first part to help the people we met in Calais through your donations of items, time and money. If you can further help this trip to aid some of the 6000 residents of the camp by driving or providing a vehicle, or by volunteering here or in France then please email Sky@sustainablecarlisle.org . If you can help fund the costs of the convoy, please contribute via our mydonate page. Also, if you fancy an evening enjoying yourself while raising money for the group, please come to our benefit gig on 12th November. See you there!

Update on 8th October

This project has been underway for almost two months now. So where are we?

Donated items
Thanks to all of you we now have 70 cubic metres of supplies to deliver to refugees in Europe! We will be asking for more donations of priority items shortly, so watch this space!.

Where’s it going?
A convoy of vans will take whatever our contacts in Calais require (at the moment it looks like food-parcels, Mens’ coats, hats, gloves, scarves and shoes, tents, sleeping-bags, pots and pans will be in the first delivery) on 28th November. The plan is to transport as many people there as possible too. The camp is desperate for more people to volunteer there – sorting items in the warehouse, helping to distribute supplies and building shelters in particular.

Why haven’t we taken our donations there yet?
The response across the country at the end of August was absolutely massive. So big that the small number of volunteers in Calais and their limited warehouse-space couldn’t possibly cope. We have been fortunate in that we have secured long-term storage for your mountain of food, clothes and equipment. This meant, a the request of our contacts in Calais that we were able hold off delivering to the camp, rather than adding to the “bottleneck” of equipment that arrived in September. People are still arriving in Calais. And people already there are still in need of food and equipment as there aren’t enough volunteers to distribute aid to people quickly enough.

What else are we doing?
We have a lot of items donated that aren’t suitable for Calais, but are needed elsewhere in Europe as refugees arrive in Greece and then travel across Europe, often on foot, with nothing but the clothes they wore on a dangerous boat-journey to Greece. There are many more women and children in Southeast Europe, and we have a lot of donations that would be very welcome there. We are still exploring the best way to get supplies to refugees in Greece, Croatia, Serbia and Hungary.

What’s it like in Calais?
There are approximately 5000 people living in the camp. The only official “soup kitchen” is only allowed to serve 1500 meals per day, and people have to queue for up to three hours to get it.
People often arrive at the camp with nothing, and spend their first night sleeping on the ground in the open-air until they can find someone who can get them a tent, sleeping bag, change of clothes and some food.
There are 20 water-taps altogether. There are 40 toilets (Hopefully, a project to build another 80 toilets will be underway soon, though this is still a pitiful amount for 5000 people). When it rains, the clay soil causes flooding so people in tents wake up laying in filthy water with all their belongings in the world ruined, as there is nowhere to clean anything or dry it out.

What about all the stories of clothes being burned or left strewn around the camp?
Unfortunately there are stories of this happening. Agencies in Calais send out requests for items that are needed. They are also as clear as they can be about which items are of no use to people in the camp. There simply isn’t the capacity to store items that they have no use for. In a crowded camp, this helps no-one. Dealing with unwanted items in the camp takes up valuable volunteer-time, creates even worse living conditions, and means donations are wasted that could be urgently needed by refugees somewhere else in the world. Where possible, vehicles that have taken aid to Calais are asked to take unusable items back to the UK and either distribute them to refugee projects elsewhere or sell them by the kilogram to raise funds for further assistance. We take the responsibility of helping people in Calais very seriously. We also take very seriously the responsibility of ensuring your donations are used appropriately, in the spirit that you gave them – be it food, tents, money or clothes. That is why we will sort, pack, re-sort and re-pack to ensure that items given in good faith go where they are needed and welcomed.

What can people do to help right now?
If you are able to help sorting donations in our warehouse, or if you can help with providing or driving a vehicle for our convoy on 28th November, please email sky@sustainablecarlisle.org . If you can help us in a way we haven’t even thought of yet, again please send us an email. If you are able to donate money to be spent on transporting the convoy to Calais (this is a real priority, with diesel costs and commercial ferry-fares to pay for) then please do so at https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/carlisleoneworldcentre

Update on 8th October

Calais Action Carlisle members have been working hard behind the scenes to prepare for delivery of aid to refugees in Europe. A date has been set for the next trip to Calais’s Jungle and donations from across Cumbria will be taken to alleviate hardship for refugees stranded there.

Donations have flooded in from the public and businesses alike. McVities have kindly donated biscuits and packaging supplies and other food products have been supplied by Morrisons. Houghton School are collecting tinned goods for their annual Harvest Festival appeal and the children are donating the proceeds to those fleeing war and persecution. Warehouse premises have been supplied on Edward St in the centre of the city and the group undergoing the final preparations necessary to enable the trip. Volunteers are currently splitting donations into manageable sized food packs, with bulk donations being divided into boxes that will feed 4 people for 2 days.

“What we need now,” Fiona Goldie, a member of the group, says, “is funding to help us with transport. We would really appreciate donations to cover our costs. We head out to Calais on 28th November and it is vital that we can cover van and petrol prices. We welcome support from public and businesses alike”

They are hoping to raise £4,000 to cover the costs of getting all the donations to Calais and beyond. Aid will be also delivered to several different places long term, as help is really needed in places like Greece and Turkey too. If people can help with this we’ll be able to start making a difference on the ground

“By the time we get to Calais” Fiona notes, “it will be winter time. Many who have made the journey across sea and land are ill prepared for a northern European winter. People are arriving in flip flops with the clothes they stand up in the only items they possess. Cumbrians can make a difference to people’s chances of survival by donating warm coats, waterproofs and walking boots.”

The group also welcome further volunteers to the group. More help will be needed with packing, and anyone who wishes to assist with the trip to Europe and aid distribution can contact Sky at sky@sustainablecarlisle.org

Some images from our ‘journey’ so far are above and below

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