Care4Calais volunteers from Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity with refugee families in Calais. Photo: David Bailey Care4Calais volunteers from Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity with refugee families in Calais. Photo: David Bailey

The Jungle camp may have been demolished a year ago but refugees are still arriving in Calais and Dunkirk and suffering in intolerable conditions reports David Bailey

Since the destruction of both the Jungle camp in Calais and that in Dunkirk a year ago, the media silence on the situation for refugees and migrants making their way to Northern France has been deafening.

Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity, a local group of volunteers who travel with aid to work with Care4Calais and the Refugee Community Kitchen every 2 months, have just returned from a harrowing weekend.

Currently there are approximately 750 young men in Calais, and about 1,250 in and around Dunkirk. It is estimated there are about 120 families. These refugees and migrants are made up of people from Afghanistan, Iraqi Kurds, Eritrea, Sudan and Syria, fleeing war, violence and political unrest.

Every time we go to France the situation has changed, and what we do as volunteers has to adapt to that. On Saturday the organisations on the ground had decided to combine to deliver new walking boots and socks to everyone in Calais in a single day. With the support of FAST (First Aid Support Team), a group of 6 health professionals, we set up 3 foot inspection stations around Calais. There, the refugees and migrants would remove their sodden trainers and socks; a medic would then inspect their feet for infection, wounds or fungal infections (Athletes foot, trench foot and ulceration are common). We then washed their feet, soaked them in dettol; dried their feet, then another medic would treat any problem as best they could with the limited ointments and creams we had available. New socks and boots would then be worn.

However, one thing we hadn’t anticipated also occurred. There was a significant proportion of young men who declined our offer of boots, stating that they would rather keep their wet trainers, so that they could run faster to escape the police. The CRS are paid to harass and demoralise the migrants through our taxes, by our Government. They destroy any sleeping bags, personal property, food and shelter, using tear gas and pepper spray on anyone they find sleeping rough regardless of age or gender. The use of physical violence is common.

On Sunday we visited families living in scrubland just off a motorway in Dunkirk. We last visited them in September, and the camp they had all set up using small tents and tarpaulins, had been easily accessible from a small access road. The weather had been cool but sunny, and children were out playing on the grass near a local lake. On this occasion, the situation had changed. The camp had been destroyed less than 24 hours following our departure and the Police had rounded up anyone they could find, put them on buses, and took them all to deportation centres. Those that had manage to evade capture, or had arrived subsequently, had moved further inland, and had scattered over a wider area, which made distributing food parcels and the children’s rucksacks (filled with paper, crayons, bubbles, hats, scarves and gloves) donated by local schoolchildren, very difficult. We discovered several families had been put up in a local hotel for the night by a local charity, the weather had been so cold.

We did eventually find some families, and were able to distribute the care packages; receiving smiles and questions ‘why are you here? why are you helping us?’ They were surprised we were volunteers.

The weather was bitterly cold, dark and windy. We struggled to cope with it wrapped in our hats, winter coats and scarves, for a few hours. Maintaining hope and physical and mental health while suffering these conditions every day is impossible, but these amazing human beings do, against all the odds.

Because of the destruction of the Jungle camp in Calais a year ago, the media have paid no attention to the plight of refugees arriving in Northern France since and the public think that the issue is resolved. As a result, warehouses are almost empty as donations to volunteer organisations supporting refugees in Calais and Dunkirk have reduced to a trickle over the last year. Care4Calais now have less than 2 weeks of supply left.

Our Government is knowingly and intentionally forcing young men, families, and unaccompanied children to suffer and die in conditions we would not tolerate for animals.

We must remain angry, we must take this Tory Government down, open the borders and make refugees welcome.

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David Bailey

David Bailey is an NHS worker, photographer, socialist and an activist. He has organised and participated in convoys to Calais with Oxfordshire Refugee Solidarity. He also works with the People's Assembly and Stop the War and is a member of Counterfire.