The Calais warehouse was buzzing for hours if not days after Zu and I visited.
I've received a sweet thank you note from the staff at refugee-kitchen
for coming out,
A morale booster that was well needed
as fatigue (after the camp burning down, and the hours the volunteers have been puting in)
had well and truly set in-
It was so nice to see all
The food we brought has all been used up.
The peppers went into a salad with some pears and hazelnuts,
and the eggplant they turned into a favorite curry Brinjal Bhaji.
If you've not tried it before
here's a recipe,
and totally delicious: www.food.com/recipe/brinjal-eggplant-curry-239485
I keep in touch with
Tom - the head chef.
He is there on the ground.
Don't let anyone tell you the situation is stable, or over-
The situation remains very up and down,
They are bracing themselves as the camp in Paris got shut down a few days ago,
they are expecting numbers to jump up again,
and with the weather warming up they will start to see an influx of people crossing
the Mediterranean sea
and heading their way.
They have an amazing dedicated team that will make sure the work gets done.
They are angels.
There are at least 200 unaccompanied minors sleeping in forests, parks and fields, in and around Calais.
There are spaces for only 65 children in the state-run children's centre in the area.
You only have to stop to talk with any one of these kids as they wait in line to collect a pair of fresh socks (there are no laundry facilities available and no Mum or Dad to wash their clothes) for a couple of minutes to grasp four things about them:
1. They truly are children and they are lost
2. They speak English - that's why they are braving such horrendous living conditions in the hope of coming to the UK. Many have family members in the UK and / or they learnt English at school
3. They want to study and live normal lives.
4. They have no faith in the French system due to being exposed to police violence and threats from fascist groups.
Volunteers from Help Refugees and their partner organisations do their best to ensure they have basic needs met which is to say clean, dry, warm clothes, dry bedding and food. But for the children this isn't enough. They need consistency, structure, daily support and love in a holistic but very real sense. In a practical sense they need legal advice and support, medical support, activities to keep their minds and bodies occupied and to a certain extent distracted from what is otherwise an incredibly hard existence. They also need schooling. They need mobile phones, phone credit, battery packs (no plugs available if you have no home!) and access to the internet so that they can keep in touch with their families and so that they are contactable in case of emergency or progress with legal cases. These children are as young as 12. And it's not just boys. There are at least 30 young women living in the area, equally in need of support and guidance and more vulnerable.
There are currently an estimated 95,000 unaccompanied refugee children living in Europe so in May 2016 Help Refugees worked with Lord Alf Dubs to pass the Dubs amendment to the immigration act in the UK. This amendment was supposed to protect the most vulnerable refugee children living not only in Calais but across Europe, bringing them to safety in the UK. At that time there were 1000 unaccompanied minors living in the camp in Calais. Until September 2016 not one single child had been brought to safety via the Dubs amendment which lead Help Refugees to take legal action against the home office who pledged to bring only 350 children to safety. They have since increased this number to 480. A very small number in the context of the 95,000. We can only hope that the Home Office will agree reopen this scheme, due to close in May and that they work to allow children with family members in the UK to be quickly reunited with them. We are talking about children who have fled war, persecution, loss of families and forced military conscription in dictatorships. They just want some education, normality and a warm bed to sleep in.
Here's what you can do right now to help.
Please donate funds to help the team providing support and services to unaccompanied children: www.mydonate.bt.com/events/mobileyouthcentre
Physical donations. The most needed items are: Warm blankets, Sleeping bags, Size 41, 42, 43 trainers, Small and medium size tracksuit bottoms and jeans, small and medium sized sweaters. To find out how you can donate these items and for a list of all the items needed email: email@example.com
If you're a UK resident write to your MP about reopening the Dubs amendment and about speeding up family reunification. Let them know you care about the fate of unaccompanied child refugees living precariously across Europe and that you believe that the UK should be doing more to help. Check out this site to find out how: www.writetothem.com
They hope to
have the mobile youth help center up and running soon. They need more donations.