Below is a simple account from volunteers who have just spent a week in Calais. Many thanks to Andy for writing this summary.

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Sunday 8th April

We are a big team at the warehouse in Calais today.  There are two minibuses of people from Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity, plus groups from Southampton, Newham and Utrecht.  So we “do” the biggest settlement in Calais, near the site of the old Jungle.  The refugees are very mixed here, with Afghans, Eritreans, Sudanese, Ethiopians, North Africans and others.  We take the generator and can charge up dozens of phones, as well as serve tea and coffee.  We distribute coats from the back of the transit.  It’s still cold, though spring seems to be coming.


Monday 9th April

We split the team, still with over 40 volunteers.  One group takes food supplies to a small group outside Calais, where a local French woman has a centre where refugees can get a shower and rest, while she supplies hot meals.  The warehouse has a long standing link with her and often supplies food and clothes.  Another group goes to a centre for unaccompanied minors run by a French NGO about an hour from Calais.  The kids have dormitories and some attend school from the centre.  They also have language classes there.  There are 45 there at the moment.  We take games and Easter eggs and spend the afternoon chatting and doing various activities.  A small group goes to the centre in Calais run by Secours Catholique, a French charity which runs various activities for refugees.  The van goes to a settlement of Eritreans on the outskirts of Calais for another distribution of coats, with the tea van and the phone chargers.  We take footballs and Easter eggs.


Tuesday 10th April

Another Calais site is near the ring road, in a disused car park.  The police and the local council have built a wall of boulders to stop the aid agencies distributing to the Afghans who live in the woods around the site.  We get a call saying that the refugees have moved the boulders to re-open the distribution point.  It apparently involved some scaffolding poles and a lot of effort….  We take coats, firewood for cooking fires and food packs for everyone, play football, make tea and charge up the phones.


Wednesday 11th April

Wednesday is Dunkirk day.  The council here is more sympathetic than in Calais.  Since early December refugees have been able to use a gym as a winter shelter, though it is expected to close soon.  One van goes there and takes blankets, clothing, food and games and toys for the kids, who exhaust the volunteers all afternoon.  The other goes to a car park in the woods near a lake, where refugees camp out.  We distribute coats again, with food packs and power packs for phones.  The generator charges phones again.  Here the refugees are mostly Kurdish.  We find ourselves in conversation with two guys who’ve both been in London, showing us pictures on their phones of Westfield in Stratford.  The CRS riot police draw up in a van and demand our papers, refugees and volunteers alike.  They take them off and record all our data.  On the way out, the van is pulled over by CRS and they demand details of the vehicle and driver.  We finish at a very small settlement tucked away in woods nearby, where about a dozen refugees live together.  They make tea for us and we chat about them and talk about the Middle East.


Thursday 12th April

First thing in the morning, we get a call from the refugees whose camp we were in last night.  The CRS have destroyed the camp and taken every bit of shelter they had.  This happens on one of the refugee sites every few days.  There have been three clearances in the last week at different settlements.  An emergency run is done to make sure that people at least have sleeping bags and some warm clothes tonight.  The main trip today is to Brussels, which is done every week.  First we go to Belgium Kitchen.  This is a semi-legal squat in two adjacent blocks of flats.  There are about a hundred people, including families, from many different countries.  They’ve cleared the overgrown garden at the back and made an allotment which they’re planting.  We take food for their communal kitchen and specially made packs for women.  They tell us what they need on next week’s visit.  We go on to a park in central Brussels and distribute T shirts and hoodies from the van to mostly African refugees.  A Belgian group brings water and bread.  Late night: we get back to the warehouse at 10.30pm.


Friday April 13th

Today we have a new visit.  A legal centre in Calais has put the Warehouse in touch with a new centre about an hour down the motorway towards Paris.  It’s a centre for asylum seekers in a motel, taken over by the French state and run by two French charities.  They’ve sent us a list of what they need, especially shoes and trousers.  We take games and footballs and spend time with refugees from several different countries.  These have applied for asylum in France.  There are 90 people there.  86 have been refused.  We take food, blankets and jumpers to a small Afghan settlement in waste ground at the edge of Calais on the way back.  A late shift takes more supplies to Dunkirk.


Saturday April14h

New volunteers join us from London South Bank University and from Copenhagen, so we’re back to the biggest site again, with the tea truck, the generator and this time jackets, tarpaulins and phone power packs.  A lorry comes in from Scotland via Cumbria, driven by volunteers who stopped off at local groups to pick up aid.  It’s full to the top, so we unload and start the sorting to get stuff out next week.  Next week has a long trip to Paris taking blankets and sleeping bags to French volunteers to go out there, followed by an even longer journey to the Sudanese refugees in Caen in Normandy, plus Calais and Dunkirk.