27 March 2023

Image of 4 Days in Calais

How easy it was to watch the scenes from Calais on the news and from the safety of my living room. This trip gave me the chance to meet and be humbled by some of the most inspiring people I am ever likely to encounter.

Our first stop in Calais was Secours Catholique day centre. A lot of thought and effort had gone into making the centre a welcoming space where visitors could escape the grey, cold reality of February on Calais streets. Pastel portraits covered every wall and told a story of all who had passed through the centre; all ages and all nationalities. I could only imagine where they were now, hoping they had beaten the odds to find safety. Practical, legal and mental health advice leaflets were printed in different languages and illustrated information posters on what happens once your boat has been rescued were on display. Washing facilities were at capacity, phones getting as much charge as possible and the last games of chequers and table football were being played. These young men would soon be back on the streets or into a camp.

Care4calais works out of a massive warehouse on an industrial estate. The sheer volume of donations was quite overwhelming. Endless boxes filled countless shelves and racks but the donations go out almost as quickly as they come in. We were put on ‘tent task’; assemble a tent, check it is in a clean and good state, and then label it up as checked.  One of the students pointed out how hard it had been for us to put up one tent in a calm, dry warehouse and what a contrast it would be to put it up in the wind, rain and mud. Tents are not allowed in Calais and are regularly hosed down or confiscated. Checking them seemed like a redundant task but if any of the tents could offer shelter from the elements for even one night, it would be worth it. How varied the condition of donations were. Some of the tents seemed barely used but others were in tatters; muddy, stained and torn. It was sad to see that there is still a mindset of ‘beggars can’t be choosers’ when it comes to charity donations.

The afternoon saw us go out to a disused patch of land for ‘distribution and services’. We were joined by SKT Welfare, Spreading Kindness Together, an Islamic charity from Yorkshire who are led by an unshakeable faith and strong desire to help the most vulnerable. They had brought with them over 800 pairs of new boots, walking socks, hats and gloves. Stations were set up around the field; a hot drinks station, bike repair, tables with games such as Connect 4, dominoes and chess, extension leads screwed into wooden pallets and plugged into a generator to charge mobile phones. There was also a ‘hair station’; 5 camping chairs set up in a circle with combs, brushes and 2 pairs of clippers on the ground in the middle. It was heart-warming to see young lads styling each other’s hair.

Men of all ages and all nationalities soon appeared from all directions. Lots went straight to queue for new boots; they had heard what was on offer that day and walked miles to get there. Every person I walked past said hello and smiled. What was clear from the reaction of all the refugees was that this couple of hours was a rare time during the day where they were treated with kindness and dignity. Despite being tired, traumatised, cold and hungry, the refugees still managed to give out positivity. One of our group leaders, made a comment about looking for the face of Christ in those we would encounter. I saw Him in the faces of those who were persecuted, and in those who showed love and kindness. The people we met were not of the same religion but all had the belief that a greater being was at work.

The next afternoon we set up in a car park in the centre of Calais. Again, men came from all directions. A few police cars went past and the organisers had told us that they might stop and question us.

A young man, Frankie, from the Ivory Coast came to use the clippers and asked one of the volunteers to shave him. Without hesitation, the volunteer sat him down and started. I wondered how long it had been since Frankie had been touched with such tenderness. We did not know when or how he arrived in Calais, how long it had been since he had last washed or the last time he had any physical contact with someone. I felt ashamed knowing that if he did make it across the Channel he would not be welcomed by the authorities.

We spoke with 3 men; one had a gash on his forehead and another wore a hospital band. Their dinghy had overturned and the police had picked them up and beaten them with batons. Their silver lining, as they told it, was that they got to stay in hospital overnight, out of the cold. The men joined a queue to be offered a jumper.

I met so many people who have been stripped of all their rights and dignity and yet they still have hope that things will get better. That glimmer of hope is what keeps us alive. My faith has been strengthened by seeing love and faith in others. In the refugees that continue to trust and have faith that they will find safety. In seeing good people reaching out, with great compassion, to those in need. In witnessing people, especially those I travelled with, advocate for refugees and speak out in support.





Posted by Admin HHF

Category: Schools of Sanctuary

Tags: Catholic school Schools of Sanctuary