My dear friend Mireia, told me about Calais. I mean I knew all the situation there but she was telling me about her experience in the camp, where 5,497 people of which 137 Syrian refugees live*.
I always found volunteering something not suitable with my personality, to tell you the truth, I found it too taught and too heartbreaking. I have always been committed on participating in demonstration in the street, if I feel the reason close to my values and my ideals, but I don’t think I can define myself an activist.
I have been traveling since I was very young and I had the good fortune to meet and know different kind of people. I learned to get over national particularity and stereotypes associated with preconceived visions of people. I try constantly to assess people irrespective of background. I have always been intrigued by cultures around the world, but I never thought would be possible that peeling onions and cut potatoes for refugees in Calais, would make me feel that good.
Over the past 10 years I have read thousands of stories about migrants. I do not know exactly why, but I always felt empathy with them, although I can not understand what means travelling for months through six nations, in the most awful conditions.
The way in which Europe and England are reacting to the emergency, it is absolutely disgusting, so I felt the civil responsibility as human being to do something. I felt that even something small like going to help for a weekend would help.
I spoke with Mireia, as Italian and Spanish ( Catalan) women, we have been informed since the 90s about the tragedies that occur in our sea every year. Thousand people die every year and the situation after the war in Syria has becoming even worse in the last three years. A lot of people keep coming and they continue to run away from their country, because it is better to die trying to escape than under a bomb.
So I decided to come with her to Calais.
We met on a Friday evening at Hackney Central with backpacks and a smile on our faces.
I told myself that I was not going on a trip but the feeling I felt was beautiful.
We were four of us, we took the bus from Victoria Station that one of £ 50 return. We stop for passport control before and then to take the ferry in Dover.
We arrived in Calais at 5:30 in the morning, the cold and the wind cut my face and I wondered how these people still manage to survive in such a shit weather.
From the port we went directly to the warehouse.
The warehouse is the nerve center of the volunteers action, who work in the camps in Calais and Dunkirk. They are groups of raver, ex squatters. There’s no Red Cross, no non-governmental organization apart from Médecins sans Frontières , which seem to be always the first organization that arrive into the emergency zones.
All volunteers live here in vans, caravans and camper just outside the warehouse. Some of them are here since December other since September. The “volunteers of the weekend” like us, are important for them, give help to more than 6,000 people every day is an unbelievable and emotionally intense work.
I worked with the boys and girls of the Refugee Community Kitchen. Steve is the guy who did start the initiative is Steve, that used to work for the Glastonbury Festival.
R.C.K. and the whole crew of Artists in Action are usually organizing festivals, art events and rave.There are no patches on jackets, no names of organizations, are men and women like me, like you, that work hard everyday to help those who live in the mud since months.
The day starts early. After you have done the work in the kitchen cutting potatoes, carrots, garlic and onions and all that the cooks needed, we went to distribute the food to the camp in Dunkirk.
The way the transport available are the Bastien’s car and the Koldo’s van, a smiling boy who arrived here from Granada.
Dunkirk is even worse than Calais. It is a huge mud pool where about 2,000 camp with tents. The cold, damp and dirt are impossible to survive in.
It’s like being in a war zone, but we are one hour by train from King’s Cross and less than 2 hours flight from Paris, in the middle of the “civilized” Europe.
What i saw was depressing. The French police checks at the entrance. It is prohibited for anyone to bring in any kind of technical structure that can improve the living conditions of these people. We have permission to bring in only food, clothing and sleeping bags.
We organized two camping tables to place the food on. People are starting to line up to pick up the food. It’s to give to those people dignity, so no sad faces, no pietism. They are guys like us who often speak three languages and do not have the “luck” to have a valid passport to travel in Europe.
So we put a little bit of music and we start to distribute the food. There are no poses, there is nothing heroic, it is just love, we are people who help other people who are living in a desperate situation, forgotten by all. Dunkirk is an illegal camp there are not any organizations that usually give support here.
All the refugees here are almost all boys, often very young, families with small children, considered as garbage to keep away, outside the city. Wonderful smiles, people full of gratitude, there is no anger in the looks.
Maria lives here is a cute and clever little girl who brings me and Mireia to take a ride in the field. She speaks perfect English and has only 8 years old. Maria is beautiful with big green eyes, she is from Syria.
Mohamed is a 21 year s old boy from Iran. He comes with his phone asking me if he can put on his music. His dream is to go to Glasgow, he does want to come to London seems to be too expensive, I smiled at him. He was an IT in Iran he lost his job and the current situation does not allow him to find another one, most of his family is in Glasgow and he would just want to go there. He told me that he doesn’t like France. He found people here too racist, he was arrested only because Iranian and without a passport. Arrested and detained for 18 days, treated like beast – they barely gave me food and water – it seems a story from a concentration camp in the 1944, but no we are in 2016 in Europe.
After the mission in the camp we back to the warehouse. We have to clean pots and then the day is over. Pats on the back, smiles and a photo to immortalize the team of the day.
I do not know what I’ll find next time, cause the latest news say that after the meeting in Lille, the southern part of the main camp, “the Jungle” will be evacuated. 800-1000 people will be brought to new temporary shelters and containers.
The work is hard, emotionally left me in so much sadness and anger towards a system that has lost respect for human life, but I want to go back to Calais for the guys in the camps and for volunteers. I have met in four days fantastic men and women, big hearts and wonderful minds. Nice people exist, it is not true that we just become a shapeless mass of selfish individuals closed in our little meaningless lives.
If interested in the opportunity to volunteer in Calais or if you want support economically the work of volunteers, below the list of the organizations involved:
Artists in Action: http://www.artistsinaction.eu/
Refugee Community Kitchen: https://www.youcaring.com/refugee-community-kitchen-474904
L’Auberge des Migrantes: http://www.laubergedesmigrants.fr/
Volunteers in Calais: http://www.supportrefugees.org.uk/volunteering/volunteer-in-calais/