It was a deep privilege to be the first from the Hull group to make it to Calais for the relief of refugees there. I went with the chair of the group, Maud, and a car packed to the gunwales with sleeping bags, tents, warm clothes, shoes, coats, and so on, all donated by people in Hull and area particularly in the light of the Syria crisis. The Syrian civil war has claimed over 220,000 lives and displaced some 11 million people, nearly half the population.
The vast majority are in countries neighbouring Syria such as Lebanon and Jordan, Turkey too. One Jordan camp has 80,000 in it. For those with the means and the courage, the countries of Europe are the goal. The camps in Calais are for the most part made up of the men, maybe 90%, and the remaining 10% women and children. Many of the women and children are in camps in Greece we were to learn.
About a third of those who have made it to Calais apply for refugee status in France, Others are determined to make it to Britain but have met even further obstacles despite their perilous journey so far. Cameron’s contribution has been to build even higher fences at enormous expense topped with barbed wire. These people won’t be among the 4000 a year he has pledged to take.
Here’s the Calais lighthouse. Over to the left is a church where 20 or so Syrian men had made camp and were sheltering in the porch. We asked them if they needed anything and they said no. Maybe the locals have been rallying around. However, the following Monday the police moved them all on, together with another 30 or so in a grassy area near the church, and another 30-ish by a warehouse loading bay – all into the giant “jongle” camp by the motorway.
We delivered to a smaller camp that we found, and with the help of a French family also delivering that day, we handed out everything that we had brought – and went off to get some more with money that the group had raised and we had left to spend!
These men, women and children are as much victims of war as anyone in the conflict. And neither are Britain’s hands clean here either, where we are almost certainly involved in helping the civil war to kick off, and where we have major responsibility in setting the Middle East on fire with the most immoral war so far this century – Iraq.
Someone worked out that the number of Syrians destined for Hull, by ratio, would be about 9 or 16 or so per year. Hull has an ancient history of helping others fleeing war and persecution. We’ll be no different this time and already a good dozen people have offered rooms for refugees. Someone who gains refugee status, technically, is provided for through housing benefit etc. But there remain needy people who fall through the gaps and could end up destitute.
Now we have sent three vans to Calais. All the goods were well received, and the needs remain as great as ever as winter approaches. Meanwhile Syria, Assad, Isis, the refugees, all are political footballs, while major powers like America and Britain, as well as Russia, decide what to do. Not setting fire to countries would be a good start.