Having just got back from a week in Dunkirk (28 april - 5 may), where allegedly "there is no need for volunteers", Shelley, a Women’s Centre volunteer, tells a very different story. Here below are her impressions of the situation.
ON THE GROUND
In the woodland and open spaces of Puythouck, Grande Synthe, we found groups of men, women and children making small shelters, queuing at food and clothes distributions (aced by Emmaüs, Salam, Adra and the Refugee Community Kitchen) and trying to find out where they could have a wash. In the days that followed we gave out ponchos, hygiene packs for outdoor living, clothes for men, women and children, toys for children, power banks, wet wipes and antibacterial gel for all. We spent time talking with the families whose number grew from two to over six by the middle of the week. And while the sun shone spirits were good, but when the rain fell and a cold wind blew it was dismal.
The most distressing part of the work on the ground was hearing about the CRS [Compagnies
Républicaines de Sécurité, the riot police] and general police activities at night, on horseback, trying to disrupt people sleeping in the woods. We took a woman to hospital in Dunkirk for treatment for chemical spray in her eyes; we took a young man for treatment because he had bites all over his body; we took a family for treatment for insect bites as well as for an illness that seemed to be genetic; we took a Kurdish ex-Peshmerga soldier for treatment for his post traumatic stress disorder. We witnessed the french authorities in action taking two refugee children away from their mother who was suffering from mental health issues. They were planning to abandon her on the street, so we took her to hospital and ensured that the legal team were aware and taking action.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The Refugee Women’s Centre insists that no-one should be in such living conditions to begin with. It’s crucial to keep this discussion alive in the British Parliament. The only reason for which people, who have left everything behind, are currently living in a forest or on the streets is because the U.K. will not take in more refugees, and will not give them a generalised opportunity to apply to the Home Office at a distance. Therefore, being smuggled to the U.K. is the only solution for those who want to ask for asylum there.
Please continue political pressure if you live in the U.K. Make you MP understand that this is important, and the issue will not be solved by merely paying the french authorities off. Please also continue supporting the volunteering teams on the ground. Whilst we are not solving the situation, which is beyond our control, our aim is to minimise its impact on those who are the most directly concerned.
Shelley is a regular volunteer at the Refugee Women's Centre. She often makes trips from the UK to provide very practical and caring support not only to the women on camp, but also to the volunteers. She has been an amazing asset on camp and is integral in the Refugee Women’s Centre adaption to being mobile.
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