I had always planned to go back since my trip to Calais last September with my husband and brother where we first experienced how dire the refugee crisis was.
I always assumed that as I had been to Calais before and witnessed the poverty and awful living conditions I would be mentally prepared for the second time, but I was very wrong. On arriving to the warehouse in Calais we were shown papers that had been written by children, they had the word ‘REFUGEE’ and next to each letter a sentence on what it meant to be one. The one that stood out to me were the words ‘Everyone is starving’ in a young child’s writing, this hit me hard and I instantly started crying. I could not comprehend how that child must have felt when writing down those awful words.
As we had teamed up with a permanent onsite charity Care4Calais we were briefed by one of the most selfless human beings I have met called Alice. Alice provided information on the current situation at the camp and we were all extremely shocked that the number of refugees had now grown and was nearing 10,000 and that the charities around the camp were extremely low on donations and running out of food. This was completely different from our last trip as there were many people distributing aid in Calais due to the outpouring of sympathy that the death of Aylan Kurdi had caused.
On our arrival to the camp I couldn’t help notice it looked different from the last time we had visited and we were informed by Alice that the French police would constantly teargas and bulldoze parts of the camp to deter refugees from entering.
Due to the lack of food donations we were asked to divide our 500 food parcels so we could distribute in the areas where people had been starving and had not eaten for nearly a week. Due to the sheer number of people our first 300 parcels were distributed within an hour, it was sad to see people start lighting up fires to use the food provided instantly as they had been hungry for weeks.
As we walked through the camp to different areas the atmosphere around the camp seemed extremely sad, the new volunteers that had joined us for this trip were surprised at how safe they felt in the camp and were angry at the scaremongering media reports in the British newspapers.
Whilst a few of the volunteers went back to collect the remaining food parcels, a few of us were invited to an area to have some coffee with a few refugees. Despite having barely anything to eat and living in tents these individuals were extremely hospitable and opened up their homes to us to provide us shelter when it started to rain.
The weather was extremely strange on the day as at certain points it would be extremely hot, other times it would be extremely windy with sand and dirt going in our eyes and then we would be hit with torrential rain all in the space of half an hour. With the ongoing strange weather patterns, we still managed to distribute the 500+ food parcels as the team were determined to help as many people as possible.
The highlight of my trip was the kids party we had organised with the local school run by volunteers. On our way there we bumped into a 14 year old afghani refugee child, he tried to communicate in broken English but I started to speak to him in Urdu as many people from the area know the language. I have never met anyone so broken and who has given up on life, the poor child had no emotions when he was telling us of how he ended up at the camp, he had been in the camp for 2 years and that his siblings and mother had drowned at sea and his father had been shot dead by the Iranian police on their journey to Europe. All the volunteers at this point were in complete shock, how could we reassure this child that everything would be ok as he had lost everything he ever loved and was living in these awful conditions for the past two years. How could we help him, even when giving him a food parcel and inviting him to the school he seemed vacant and troubled. We wanted to flag him to the long term volunteers at the school so they could support him moving forward but unfortunately by the time everything had settled down he had left the area.
The children’s party lasted for two hours as the kids then needed to be dropped off back to their parents and the team needed to head back to the port in time for our ferry. On our way back the day’s emotions took over, all the faces and all the people who had approached me to help them came flooding back and I burst into tears. How could I help them, I was going home but left all those people behind, all those vulnerable people who want a second chance in life. Now that I have witnessed the poverty and injustice against them, I will never stop fighting for them.
I would like to thank all the volunteers that took out their time to join the RTF team. It was truly a life changing experience for all of us.