For 100+ volunteers in the warehouse a few miles from the Jungle camp, it is business as usual (as I first type this on Day 2 of the evictions). My colleagues and I spent a day sorting donations from supermarkets, individuals, garlic farms, and traders. Every single tin or bag was gathered by type and put on pallets for future use. There are still mouths to feed on the Jungle camp, and in other smaller camps around France. There are still refugees throughout Europe who need help. And there are still soup kitchens for French people around the area who need – well tins of soup, of which we have many.
In one section of the warehouse the amazing chefs of the Refugee Community Kitchen are cooking up hot food for those who remain and need it. The volunteers in the prep area ensure there is a seemingly endless supply of chopped onions, pulverized garlic, peeled carrots and the rest.
One section further along the dry goods are sorted into useful bags which could be carried by an individual or family to give them snacks and a first meal wherever they end up. Next to that is the section which always makes me feel the sheer vulnerability of the refugees – boxes and boxes of toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary towels, and so many other household items which most of them would hardly have thought about before their homes were destroyed and they began to make their way across Europe.
Behind that is a labyrinth of clothing bays, and shoe sorting areas, coats, scarves and hats. All of which will be needed, if not in the Jungle, then in the refugee camps across Europe which have been created as we continue to cause the suffering and forced migration of millions of people. Whether it is bombs we sell, regimes we support, or climate change we cause. The result is the same – people need the charity and support which can be offered by the amazing donors who have helped to fill this warehouse.
In another area firewood is chopped. Elsewhere machines and tools are repaired, tents are made robust for use, and there, in a corner of the yard, I saw 6 volunteers untangle a donated mass pile of shoelaces.
I’m only here for a week, My daughter and her partner will have been here 6 months. There are over 120 long-term volunteers who have been here from a month, to more than a year. Burn-out happens. People don’t take time away to regain strength. But everyone is there because they feel the need to do something.
We may not be able to put the clocks back and get the politicians to sort out their dumb, Dub and Dublin policies – like the shoelaces most MPs seem in need of some volunteer untanglers. They approve spending millions on a wall, rather than thousands on rehousing. Madness. However I gather the wall is going up nicely, so someone is getting paid work out of all this.
Tomorrow it is back to the yard for another day of sorting, or chopping, or bagging. I am so glad I came back. I am so glad that the French authorities have stepped up to do the best they can, seemingly without the useful help of the UK government. I am so glad the volunteers are taking care of themselves as they work around Calais on distribution and support of the refugees. And it is wonderful to see reports of smiling refugees finding their new temporary homes around France. Do shout if you need Baked Beans – we’ve got loads.
As I re-read this today (Day 3 of the clearance), I’m aware the situation is confused in the camp itself – there are some fires, there are some lost children, numbers being registered vary from report to report, and all anyone can do in the various charity groups is keep dealing with today, with the hungry, with the needy, and with the donations which will all be used.
If you are wondering whether it is all over, too late to donate, too late to volunteer – then the answer is no, no, no. The charities need all the help and support they can get. Nothing will be wasted. The refugee crisis is not over. MPs, newspaper proprietors, arms manufacturers and global business will make sure of that for many years to come I am sure. Our fellow besuited countrymen and women will make dumb policies and avoid massive issues because they are too difficult. The charities, the volunteers, the donations will continue to be a lifeline for displaced individuals. Please help.