Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity
GLOBALLY THERE ARE OVER 65 MILLION displaced people - more than at any time since the Second World War.
Around a million a year come to Europe, according to figures from the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. Of these, a few thousand are trying to get to the UK. Most of them are stopped at the border that the UK government pays the French authorities to maintain on their behalf in France.
Therefore the brutal policing of our border in France by the French authorities and Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité (CRS) is funded by British taxpayers’ money. CRS is an infamous riot police, in charge of policing the refugee situation and known for its use of tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
Macron and May have now agreed that this payment will increase to £125million this year - more than sufficient to welcome and house the number of refugees in question.
Since the demolition in October 2016 of the Calais refugee camp known as ‘the Jungle’ one could be forgiven for assuming that the refugee crisis in northern France was over. This is certainly the impression given by the coverage it receives in the media and in the rhetoric of the French authorities. In fact there are still around 2,500 refugees in the area.
“The conditions in the Jungle were awful - it was a squalid and dangerous place, but conditions now are much, much worse,” explains Norman Wood. “The existence of the camp made it more straightforward for the small charities to distribute aid and basic medical support and to help establish resources such as the Kids' Café, the women’s centre, the school, the mosque, the church - ramshackle and improvised they may have been but at least they provided a measure of community and a few relatively safe spaces for women, children and families.
“For the last 16 months however refugees have been faced with ever more brutal tactics from the authorities. Tents and sleeping bags are confiscated and destroyed, or contaminated with tear gas, and sometimes urine, to make them unusable, leaving people to survive in the open without even the most basic shelter. Any area that looks as if it might be becoming a focus for the growth of a new camp is cleared.”
Cathy Augustine continues: “In the absence of intervention by NGOs and larger charities, relief efforts have been organised by small charities such as Care 4 Calais, Utopia 56, Auberge des Migrants and Refugee Community Kitchen. These are dependent for their continuing efforts on a stream of supplies and volunteers from many countries, but particularly from the UK, including the rapidly expanding network of volunteers working with us through ORS.”
David Bailey explains the motivation of the group: “ORS is fairly typical of the grassroots support network which has informally developed across the country to organise the collection of donations and delivery of supplies and volunteers to the charities working in France. Like most groups we started small, four individuals in a couple of cars, frustrated after being prevented from entering France as part of the large Convoy 2 Calais in June 2016, organised by People’s Assembly, Stand Up to Racism and others.
“We decided to take some of the supplies that hadn’t made it through and complete the journey. Having actually seen the situation for ourselves, however, we found that we couldn’t just stop at that. Like so many others we had to keep returning as often as we could with supplies and people. We have now grown to the extent that we are able to take 35 to 40 people plus a large amount of supplies every other month, volunteering for two to three days at a time.”
“There is no question that the flow of support to the charities has been badly affected by the demolition of the Jungle and the lack of media coverage,” says Gwynne Reddick. “Vital supplies such as boots and sleeping bags run out and distributions have to be curtailed because of a lack of people. The plight of the refugees continues to deteriorate and every time we return we see less and less hope in their eyes.”
Emmanuel Macron has vowed to end the presence of refugees in the Calais area. He has denied reports (including the investigation by his own Interior Ministry) of police brutality. There is great uncertainty on the ground about what this will mean in practice but it is clear that things are going to get much tougher for the refugees and for those trying to help.
- For more photos, background and wider articles go to ORS Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/ OxfordshireRefugeeSolidarity/.