Dora Solloway writes about her recent trip to Calais with other Gryphon sixth-formers Neve and Holly, and the charity Care4Calais
Currently, around 1,500 refugees are sleeping rough in Calais - some of them children. Many have no access to food, shelter or clothes other than those provided by charities such as Care4Calais and L’Auberge des Migrants. The little they do have, perhaps a flimsy pop-up tent or some donated clothing, is regularly taken away by police in an attempt to dissuade migrants from coming to the French port.
Recently, three of us from the Gryphon School sixth form went to Calais to volunteer with Care4Calais for four days. Mornings were spent in the warehouse (pictured, by Neve Reid) sorting donations such as tents, sleeping bags, clothing and food, and preparing for afternoon distributions, which took us to Dunkirk and some of the small informal camps around Calais. Here we distributed warm clothing, hot tea and snacks, as well as providing hair clippers so they could get their hair cut and have a shave. We all also enjoyed the opportunity to chat and play football together.
It was on a distribution at the ‘Eritrean Roundabout’ – where up to 100 Eritreans have made camp – that we witnessed first-hand police brutality towards the refugees. In the same area there happened to be some French Gilet Jaunes protesters, who were holding up traffic to protest against high fuel prices. Some had become quite aggressive, shouting at drivers and kicking cars, so, when a police van pulled up, we assumed they were there to talk to the protesters and help get traffic flowing again. Instead, however, they ran straight at three Eritrean men, who were walking peacefully to the underpass of the motorway where they slept, with their batons raised and pepper spray at the ready. We were safe ourselves, but were told this was not an unusual sight. The refugees are regularly beaten and tear-gassed by the police for no crime other than having nowhere to sleep, having fled war and persecution.
Care 4 Calais needs more people to help them support refugees in the area. Volunteers are welcome at any time, whether they can stay for a weekend, a week or even a few months.