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Refugee camp in Calais. Photo: Sheena Connor

Refugee camp in Calais. Photo: Sheena Connor

Things are changing quickly, and activists who want to shape events need to keep up, writes John Westmoreland

In Doncaster we recently took a coach to the March for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education, and then immediately on our return had to begin organising the Doncaster People's March in Support of the Junior Doctors for 26 April. At the same time we need to get to work on the Convoy to Calais on 18 June.

Frantic sharing of the Junior Doctors' demo leaflet by the BMA, NUT and People's Assembly brings the hope that the event will be successful, and this in turn has laid the basis for the launch of the Doncaster Convoy in June. The Convoy to Calais on 18 June has is being organised by Stand up to Racism, The People's Assembly, Stop the War Coalition and a number of major trade unions and other movements.

For us in Doncaster the key has been using our ever-widening People's Assembly contacts to create a working group for the Convoy. We have been able to tap into the goodwill and enthusiasm of a number of people before bringing together the groups who initiated the Convoy.

We have brought in key contacts from the CWU and Unite to get the ball rolling and then looked at community-based organisations. For example, an excellent supporter of the Convoy is the Reverend Tom McCready who coordinates the project ‘Muslim-Christian Friendship’, who has suggested that we use the Convoy to launch Refugee Week which begins on 20 June.

We are treating the Convoy as a practical issue in the first instance and so we want to tap into the experience of groups and individuals who have done work around refugees and Calais.

Sheena Connor, a member of Unite and a supporter of the People's Assembly has been to refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais and helped organise a convoy of medical supplies with the group Care for Calais. Sheena said:

The refugees in Calais are living in a hell that comes from being excluded from society. They cannot get to see a doctor or use other welfare services. They live in rat-infested containers where they cannot wash themselves or their laundry properly. Many are suffering from scabies and other curable and preventable diseases. It is a preventable humanitarian disaster and points to a crisis in European politics.

Our convoy was built up using a network of supporters. We visited pharmacies all over Doncaster getting things like Paracetamol and Calpol, skin creams and soap. Mary Black, who has played an important role in organising convoys to Calais had a clear idea of what was essential. We were given plastic packing cases, and got access to storage facilities – all from goodwill in the community. We also took cash so that the refugees could get some shopping from local supermarkets.

We are already reaching out to different trade union and church groups in Doncaster and meeting lots of people who want to help.

Sheena will be announcing our convoy at the Doncaster People's March for Junior Doctors on Tuesday.

John Westmoreland

John Westmoreland

John is a history teacher and UCU rep. He is an active member of the People's Assembly and writes regularly for Counterfire.

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