26th April 2020, London
“While conditions on the ground remain incredibly difficult,
we’re still here and still helping.”
– Refugee Women’s Centre –
Over the past three weeks, I have received endless messages and DMs from beautiful people, asking me what they can do to help refugees not only now battling brutal living conditions in the ‘camps’ of Calais and Dunkirk, but now a lethal pandemic too.
And despite every fibre of my being wanting to respond with the usual lists or suggestions of donations we need, I have stayed relatively silent. Often pinging back with a ‘Please bear with me/us as we try to find out how what’s happening’ or ‘I’ll be back in touch with details soon’.
Having to write those messages whilst all around me huge charities were putting call-outs for emergency Covid-19 funds, has led to a lot of sleepless nights. Was I doing the right thing? Shouldn’t I be crying out with greater urgency for funds and aid? Wasn’t this the key moment to try and get as much support in as possible?
Anyone who knows me, will know that I don’t like staying silent in a crisis. It’s a practical impossibility, and one that drives my family and friends up many a wall.
But I also don’t like making false promises. Or pretending that I can guarantee money and goods will get to the places they need to get to, when I simply don’t know.
Furthermore, I can’t break a promise to myself or my teams. The promise that states I will never ask for what I cannot deliver.
In the first few days of the pandemic, I hopefully put an order through for a shipment of masks, protective gear and other goods needed by our Mobile Refugee Support Team. Nearly 70% of that stock was either never sent out by the supplier due to stock issues, or was stolen in transit.
By the second week of the pandemic, most frontline teams in Calais and Dunkirk had been forced to shut down the majority of their services to safeguard their volunteers. From the Refugee Community Kitchen suspending its hot food distributions, to the Refugee Women’s Centre (RWC) limiting all operations to the distribution of tents only, the truth was a hard one to face: even if we had the money, we had no means of ensuring supplies would reach those who needed them.
Hence the enforced silence.
But whilst that silence has lasted longer than I could ever have wanted, finally, there is hope!
This pandemic, for all the pain and suffering it has caused, has pushed organisations and governments to forge new partnerships and create new ways of aiding refugees.
In the last ten days, an EU initiative to fly unaccompanied refugees aged 14 and below out of the Greek camps to safety in neighbouring countries commenced in earnest. It’s an initiative borne of months of lobbying and negotiations between grassroots charities and government personnel, and which now, thanks to such brilliant hearts as human rights barrister Sangeetha Inger, we are now actively learning about with a view to mapping out new actions.
We also finally, have a clearer understanding of what is happening and needed by our teams not just in France, but in Greece too. All of which means, I can un-silence myself for good.
HOW YOU CAN NOW HELP US
So here it is… Our call-out for the following should you be able to help in any way:
- THERAPISTS specialising in assisting refugee workers / international aid volunteers are needed to donate 1 hour of their time on a weekly basis, to connect with individual team members both here in the UK and in France. Please contact us in the immediacy if you can assist in this.
- FUNDS FOR FOOD BAGS: whilst hot food can no longer be distributed, food bags can! The brilliant Calais Food Collective team are distributing pre-packed food bags at pick-up points across the camps. A £7 donation can help feed a refugee family for a week. Please donate to them directly HERE.
- MAPPING EXERCISE: In order to ramp up lobbying efforts, we are trying to learn what frontline refugee organisations are still active across all Europe. If you know of any small organisations who are still delivering aid, please contact us with their name, location and any contact / social media details.
- FUNDS FOR ALL OUR TEAMS: Last week, we were able to donate £1,000 to the RWC to help them purchase new tent and sanitation supplies for refugees thanks to stored donations, and will continue to respond for as long as we can to all teams in both France and Greece for emergency supplies that can be accessed by them. Please continue to donate HERE.