Help Fund Kitchen In Calais

Since the beginning of September 2015, Sofinee Harun and her family from Seaham have developed a food distribution system in the middle of the Calais Jungle which by December 2015 has now grown to feed more 1,000 people a day with a cooked meal.

On the menu for 22 February was Thai Red Curry cooked by the Malaysian kitchen volunteers, long term helpers who have been trained in the science of mass catering and food hygiene.

photo from Kitchen in Calais
photo from Kitchen in Calais

Sofinee writes:

Thanks for all your donation as without that we not able to feed! Keep sending us whatever you can. But most importantly your cash donation will enable us to get meat and gas refill.

Keep us in your heart and mind. 😍😍😍😍😍😍

Even just £10 a month will keep us going and keep feeding people in need.

DONATE NOW

Please send money rather than goods, unless you have set up a special prior arrangement to supply large quantities. Money will be used to buy fresh food  from suppliers in France, saving transport costs, and that way the Kitchen can plan menus and organise supplies in advance.

Occasionally Sofinee will issue lists of foods wanted in bulk. Follow Kitchen in Calais on Facebook if you are a food wholesaler or supplier and can donate large quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables. Recently the Halal Newcastle shop in the West End supplied a large amount of Arabic foods and we are proud to support them in return by shopping there whenever we can.

Massive efforts are always needed to keep this Kitchen going.

If you can do nothing else to support destitute refugees stuck in appalling circumstances in the winter’s cold and wet, right in the heart of Europe and on our very doorstep, please send money for hot meals, properly cooked.

You know it makes sense.

Julie Ward visiting Grand-Synthe Camp, Dunkirk

Julie Ward is a Labour and Co-operative Party Member of the European Parliament for the North West of England, covering Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester. As such she is a member of the European Parliamentary Labour Party and, in turn, part of the second largest group in the European Parliament, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.

She writes:

The Calais Jungle ad hoc refugee camp has received a great deal of media attention, situated, as it is, adjacent to the main Channel crossing point with well-used train, vehicle and ferry routes.  But less than an hour’s drive south another less well-known refugee camp has grown up in the town of Grande-Synthe, near Dunkirk, much to the horror of the French authorities who seem paralysed with fear and incapable of implementing any basic administration to deal with a situation that is good neither for the permanent or temporary residents of the town.

I was unaware of the camp at Grande-Synthe until I went to the Calais Jungle in early December, an experience which deeply shocked me. Clare Moseley from voluntary organisation Care4Calais mentioned that there had been a fire at the Dunkirk camp the night before, destroying thirty refugee tents.  This was the first I had heard of refugees gathering there. There is communication and movement between the two camps with the volunteer aid workers supporting each other and some of the refugees move from one to the other, particularly the Kurds who feel more comfortable in the smaller, quieter camp at Grande-Synthe.

The storms that created devastation in my North West England constituency in December eventually moved south and saturated Nord-Pas-de-Calais. The flimsy tents and temporary structures that had been haphazardly constructed on a patch of land in Grande-Synthe, adjacent to a quiet housing estate, are unfortunately below the water table and were quite literally swamped, adrift in a morass of gigantic mud pools.

Where there had previously been pathways through the tents, leading to communal areas such as a kitchen and the school, there was now a water course. I saw all this with my own eyes over the second weekend of January when I visited the camp after I was made aware of an imminent humanitarian crisis facing the inhabitants by a constituent, Sarah from Penrith, who travelled with her daughter Jenny, in a car crammed full of basic supplies, to meet me at the train station in the town.

We parked in a nearby retail area in order to use the toilets before going on site as limited sanitary facilities is one of the many problems in the camp. Dozens of refugees were wandering about the car park, looking for bits of wood to use as firewood and other items that would help make their living situation more bearable. Some came to ask us if we had food. The recent blockade by the French authorities has made it harder for aid volunteers to get vital supplies into the camp. The unexpected interpretation of local by-laws at the end of December, prohibiting delivery of specific items such as building materials, tents, sleeping bags and blankets, seemed designed to discourage people from staying on site, but the refugees have nowhere else to go. No-one seems to want them, despite the fact that the majority are Iraqis and Kurds, who supported the UK and allied forces in the war against Saddam Hussein, many as active soldiers.

Like the Afghani man in the Calais Jungle who had interpreted for the British forces during their long battle against the Taliban, the Kurds of Grande-Synthe had nurtured hopes that their loyal service to the British people then might count for something now. They have been hugely let down, yet still they greet us with friendly smiles. In the absence of any other British presence here, we are their friends and it is difficult for them to understand why the UK remains closed and unfriendly. From their leaky (or now non-existent) tents in the swamp they make regular attempts to cross the channel, hiding in lorries. I met one man who had made more than ten attempts to escape to England, even hiding in a refrigerated lorry in minus 20 degrees Celsius for four hours, only to be discovered and returned to the port.

photo by Sarah Wilson
photo by Sarah Wilson

Maddie took us into the camp, her mobile phone ringing every few minutes with questions and queries, updates and information about all manner of logistical information. She arrived in Dunkirk when the camp first set up in November 2015 and has the best overview of what is happening and what is needed. Like many of the volunteers here she worked on music festivals and is not easily phased by the sight of mud, but the swamp at Grande-Synthe is not the end of a four day festival that one can wave goodbye to as you go home to a warm and cosy house; instead it feels like the end of the road for the exhausted refugees who have come so far but now seem stuck.

Maddie takes us to the school, a rough wooden-framed shelter with a curtained doorway and a makeshift stove where volunteers engage in play and learning activities with the children. A little girl gives me foil-wrapped Christmas chocolates from an out of date package. Other children are helping paint a sign for the wall. It says ‘Welcome’ in English and Kurdish. I sit on a pile of cushions and play with the little girl. I feel useful and I realise that is why all these extraordinary volunteers are here, many of them British women, doing whatever they can. It is simply too much to bear at home – sitting and watching the suffering, knowing the plight of these fellow human beings, and feeling ashamed of the inadequate state response.

Imogen, a mother of three from Bristol who has set up Aid Box Convoy, arrives to take us further into the camp, through the squelching mud, past dozens and dozens of ruined tents, soaked bedding and mud-caked clothes. I think about the muddy trenches endured by soldiers 100 years ago and how two world wars were supposed to liberate us from racism and fascism. I don’t want to admit it was all in vain but I feel that the world is a bleak and sombre place and I struggle to know how I can be of assistance, just one voice in a sea of sorrow.

But someone tells me that the local mayor, Damien Carême, is being pro-active, trying to get things moving so that a properly serviced camp with toilets, water and better facilities can be constructed. This will be managed by Médecins Sans Frontières but it is still weeks away. Labour MPs Yvette Cooper and Keir Starmer have also visited Grande-Synthe in recent days. Perhaps together we can make a difference? It is incumbent on all of us to speak up, to say what we have seen with our own eyes and demand a political as well as a humanitarian solution.

I am thinking these things as Imogen takes us to the edge of the camp where it meets the perimeter fence of a sports complex. A few hundred yards away from the mud and despair of the refugees lies a state of the art leisure facility; we can hear the sound of children and young people having fun, playing organised sport. The volunteers at both Calais and Dunkirk have been trying to provide opportunities like this for the refugee children, but taking them into nearby towns where people have been fed a diet of fear and hatred for Muslims is not conducive to normal relations.

photo by Sarah Wilson
photo by Sarah Wilson

In the communal cafe we sit and watch groups of refugee men chat and drink tea. A Belgian volunteer comes in and asks for help clearing the ground. The men are slow to respond. They have lost their sense of motivation. Listlessness prevails. Eventually they get up to help. I am glad but I know it won’t last. The rain will come again and the mud will spread and all their efforts will seem wasted. I feel very angry at the waste of human capital.

About a quarter of the camp inhabitants are families but the women and children tend to maintain a low profile. All the men I speak to are desperate to work, to earn a living and provide for themselves and their families and friends. They are, in general, educated and skilled, from all walks of life with lots to offer the labour market. Why is it so difficult for us to find them useful things to do? We need new housing to be built, the NHS is under pressure with not enough nurses or doctors, the flood damage in the north of Britain requires the rebuilding of roads and bridges. We struggle to encourage start-ups and new businesses. Yet here are people from a hard-working, entrepreneurial culture who just need a little bit of help. I recall Manchester’s ‘Curry Mile’, the 7-11 corner shops in Lancashire’s mill towns, the ubiquitous market traders with vans full of fabric and clothes to sell. These people arrived in Britain, often as destitute refugees, and helped to create our collective wealth. Migration, refugees and resettlement has been a characteristic of life on Earth since time began.

I continue my musing as we walk to the camp entrance past the Hands International makeshift vaccination centre. On the way I meet Imogen’s husband, Dugald, who works in senior management for a large company. He tells me about his involvement in a CBI delegation that went to Downing Street not so long ago. Without exception those business leaders wanted to deliver a positive message about migrant labour. It is their understanding that immigrants have helped to make Britain ‘Great’ and so to deny this possibility now is nothing less than short-sightedness on the part of the government.

As I exit the camp I recognise Hossain, a man I met in the Calais Jungle. We greet each other like old friends. I remember him because he had been deeply depressed and shown me the scars on his arms where he had tried to kill himself. I tell him he looks much better, happier. He smiles and agrees with me, tells me that he prefers Grande-Synthe as it is quieter and calmer than Calais. Here he can be with his Kurdish community more easily. Then he says that seeing me again has made him happy. If I did not know before what to do to make a difference I knew it then; I must never forget these fellow human beings or their stories. It is my job to tell others what I have seen and learnt, to give voice to those without a voice and to shame those that would turn their backs and close their ears on the suffering of the displaced and dispossessed. David Cameron – are you listening?

 Julie Ward MEP

5. Leros Solidarity Network:Why is Pikpa so important?

 

The 5th in the blog series written by Madelena Grossmann from Leros

The politics of numbers: Inhuman refugee reception

The recent refugee crisis has been called one of the greatest humanitarian disasters since the Second World War. The LSN concurs. We believe that the only disaster greater than this is the total absence of political vision on the part of our elected leaders to adequately respond to it. In a confused and confusing way they sit and haggle over numbers: how many can be processed; how many can be allowed through a fence; how many can find a place in a country.
Numbers. And in the media, we read about the crisis in terms of numbers all the time: five thousand refugees crossing daily onto Greek islands; one million who have survived the treacherous journey across European borders; 3600 dead in trying to arrive. These figures are sensational. They describe things, entities, bodies, in a way that excites shock, horror, fear. These emotions encourage us to accept political solutions, which are driven by the principles of administrative efficiency and order, rather than human compassion, dignity and empathy.
Our political leaders engage with a game of numbers that is focused on finding a rapid solution to a human problem, which leaves the human beings out of the equation. They seem to believe that if we get ‘all these bodies’ in one place and hold them there, we can solve the refugee crisis. “Hot spots” are ways of corralling, detaining, holding people in order to assess and validate claims for asylum. They are about managing numbers.
In a supremely cynical move, the municipal government on Leros proposes to open up Lepida as a “hotspot” to house refugees. Lepida is associated with the concentration camp for political prisoners held under the Junta and with the infamous mental hospital that became renowned for the treatment of its incarcerated as insensate beasts. Lepida, like all concentration camps in Europe, is not simply a “place”; it is a place of memory. Like all concentration camps, it is a place, which gave birth to a European conscience, a collective commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is a place, which reminds us why it is essential to protect these principles.

The conversion of Lepida into a European “hotspot “ is a cynical dismissal of this history. But it is also a clarion call to Europeans. How governments should manage the refugee crisis is opening a major political fault line. On one side are those who believe in a policy based on the principle of administrative efficiency. On the other, is the international solidarity movement, that which upholds the primacy of the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
By some quirk of fate, Leros is an epicenter of this divide, which is being drawn across a struggle between two institutions dedicated to two fundamentally different visions of refugee reception: Lepida (seen in these photos) and Pikpa (seen in the next blog).
Next blog: Pikpa: refugee reception -it is not about numbers, but people

4. The Leros Solidarity Network: Refugee detention or humanitarian reception, our fight for Pikpa!

The fourth in the series of blogs written by Madelena Grossmann on 18th December 2015, a long term volunteer and resident on the island of Leros. You can also find the first, second and third on this site.

Yesterday I posted information on the visit of our Prime Minister to Pikpa. He recognised the importance of this building in the catalogue of alternatives on hand as reception centres for refugees: “Pikpa brings hope”, he said.

The importance of this initiative is sensed by the international solidarity movement because within a few hours my short piece was re-posted many times.

The day of his visit, I also saw Pikpa properly for the first time since we took possession of the building last September. Also present, by chance, was the engineer of the Office of the First Reception in Athens. He had also been there on my initial visit and was also seeing the building again for the first time since September. We walked through the rooms, dumbfounded. We had before us nothing short of a miraculous achievement. Nothing could have been a more material statement of the strength, vision and determination of Matina Katsiveli than this building. Incredibly, in three months she has sought, requested, (elegantly) begged for and found initial financing for the work on Pikpa. As incredible, has been her capacity to wrangle, insist and convince all the workers to come together to commit their entire time to work with passion to complete the building before the winter. They have worked ferociously against the clock, in order to open the doors of this building before the winter rains come, which threaten to see the refugees again sleeping in muddy pits. It is impossible to imagine how she achieved this and both the engineer and I walked around in silence, overwhelmed and moved!

But if this was an extraordinary achievement, it was nothing compared to the daily battle with the Mayor of Leros, who has fought tooth and nail, throwing every possible hurdle in our path, to eradicate even the idea of Pikpa. He was determined to eliminate all opposition to his desire to establish a detention centre, a “hot spot” for refugees in the grounds of the infamous mental institution in Lepida. Even the word “Pikpa” in a public meeting was anathema, inciting his ire and excoriation. The running battle for Matina, Spiros and all of us in the LSN has utterly exhausting and, at times emotionally debilitating. For this reason, above all, it was a great moment to have the words of praise sung by high office for Pikpa.

However, the last thing any of us on the front line of the refugee crisis can afford is naivety. We have won the first round with Pikpa, but it is still in the throes of a bloody birth and we can expect more municipal games ahead. We look to you, the international solidarity movement to support this initiative and to stand behind Pikpa as an emblem of hope, for all of us!

Next post, why is Pikpa so important, what does it represent, why is it being called our ‘collective moment of hope’?

Volunteer Preparation Event

Is your conscience nagging you spend your annual leave on a litter pick in Dunkirk, or to chop veg in Calais, to wash clothes in Greece, to help with language training or distribute aid? This is for you.

When: Sunday Jan 31st, 2-4pm

Where: Papercuts, 1 & 2 Roxburgh House, Whitley Bay, NE26 1 DS

How to Book: use the Contact Form below – places are very limited!

This is a mini training style workshop to meet with people who have recently been in refugee camps in Calais, Dunkirk, the Croatian border and one of the Greek islands.

We will give updates on latest situation, look at how to conduct skills audit of volunteers and potentials for matching volunteering opportunities both here in the UK and in refugee camps to skills.

There will also be brief introductions to:

  • Health & Safety and Safeguarding issues.
  • Well Being whilst Volunteering
  • General photography ethics and conduct.
  • sign posting to appropriate agencies

Together we will be looking at what kinds of specific training we can provide, tailored to personal circumstances, potentially monthly, depending on need.

The venue is fully accessible, and we’ll be providing light refreshments. 

Places are very limited – we want to keep numbers small. We will repeat this, depending on demand. To book:

photo by Lisa Rutherford
photo by Lisa Rutherford

3. Leros Solidarity Network, from local to international: The Katsiveli story

The third in the series of blogs written by Madelena Grossmann, a long term volunteer and resident on the island of Leros. You can also find the first and second on this site.

The LSN began as an idea and a cooperative action as long ago as 2003 when refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan began arriving on Leros where there was no proper reception in place. When the first refugees began to arrive, Matina Katsiveli had already been engaged in solidarity actions for impoverished Lerians, hard hit by the European austerity measures and had been organising cooperatives around food and clothing. She then did two things of exceptional importance. First, she recognized that it was essential to build links between the impoverished in Leros/Greece who, through no fault of their own, were feeling dispossessed, and the refugees who were arriving on the island, who through no fault of their own, were entirely dispossessed. In her own dynamic way, Matina brought these groups together through programmes of sharing. Many Lerians then engaged in voluntary solidarity work with those arriving who were even worse off than themselves. During this early period, Matina and Spiros also petitioned the police, the Port police, local and other authorities to gain access to the refugees on arrival and offer them clothes, food and emotional support. Thus, the Lerian volunteer solidarity network began to put in place structures of reception long in advance of the enormous numbers of refugees arriving this year. The second thing Matina did was to recognize that the growing refugee crisis was creating a major fault line in European/global politics. The traditional left/right wing division was being replaced by a new and far more essential fault line: the politics of refugee reception. What should happen to refugees when they arrive in Europe, or at points along their journey, is dividing the world between those that endorse and those who refuse to accept the brutalization and annihilation of fellow beings in flight from war zones. There is a now a global humanitarian outcry against procedural measures that favour efficiency over the principles of human rights. In line with this, Matina and Spiros, on our small island, decided to create a symbolic meeting point through which to express local /international solidarity in humanitarian reception of refugees. They have initiated structures: “Villa Artemis” and “Pikpa”. The LSN invites the international solidarity movement to engage around these structures, to support them and to take ownership of them as emblems of a global humanitarian politics of refugee reception. Villa Artemis and Pikpa will be described in the next post.

It Is The Baby’s Hands Against My Neck

This beautiful piece is written by a long term volunteer on Leros, Ronja de Boer and republished here with permission. It truly conveys how it feels to be a volunteer.

It is the baby’s hands against my neck,
when mothers arms are too weak.

It is the man who lost three fingers,
on the military island, Farmakonisi.

It is the Greek soldiers shouting, that here,
he will die.(He didn’t).

It is other refugees stating Greek soldiers,
treated them well.

It is a military boat circling around their rubber boat,
for it to tip over,
despite long arms holding the bodies of babies in the air,
they are rescued by reaching international water.

It is a woman who collapses in my arms,
she has walked for three days,
she says, “and nobody listen.”

It is the numbers on their hands,
and I have to write the numbers on paper,
to give to the police,
from number to human,
when they follow me up to Villa Artemis.

Villa Artemis where we communicate with occasional English words and a flow of Arabic words I don’t understand and hand gestures and crying and laughing and stroking hands on backs and kisses on each other’s cheeks.

A head on the other side of the window, the woman is washing clothes outside, in the dark,
afraid of the dark, I sit beside her, watching her hands carefully turning the wet clothes and together we sang,
Syria Oh Syria.
And in between she whispered,
“I love you Syria.”

It’s the older women, who moan as they climb, the steep stairs to the Villa Artemis,
for each step,
they exclaim a “Jalla”,
when they take breaks and sit down,
I put flowers from the garden,
at the edges of their hijabs.
They call me Habibi.

It is the boys stuck for too many days on Leros,
as the ferries to Athens strike,
we compete, to see who can run the fastest,
they help me distribute diapers,
as thanks I give them,
a gum,
or a jacket.

It is being at the harbor when the ferry leaves for Athens,
to see hope shining from the people,
so striking,
and no one is able to say,
“But the escape is not over yet.”

It is repeatedly forgetting to give chocolates to the man,
who helped to translate,
until the day his face disappeared from the camp.

It is the red inflamed skin of the drowned children,
who arrive in the same boat,
as those who did not drown.
Who travel in the same boat where staff,
Wear bio hazard suits, costumes for their protection,
as if it was a load of Ebola patients,
they carried.

It is the forgotten island nearby, that doesn’t have enough people or resources to deal with the situation.

It is that is there are not enough body bags for those,
who died.

It is that one night 1300 people arrived,
when we usually saw 300 for the day.

It is distributing 1400 breakfast sandwiches on camp,
and that we shout “No! No! No!”,
to those who want to take,
two sandwiches.

It is the pictures a woman shows, of herself undressed and rouged,
in challenging poses,
and that she continues to browse, and point and say to me,
“Future.”

It is the port police here,
whose work has been reformed completely,
and they can often yell at the refugees,
when no one seems to listen.
And they can misuse their power,
and they can forget their power,
and they yell at a volunteer,
“how can it happen that people come here wet and cold,
with not enough blankets available?”

It is the moment to listen to a man’s story,
it is the moment to say, with an irritated voice,
“No Shoes” when the storage of shoes is empty but so many,
still ask.

It is as-salaam ‘alaykum, shukran and bukra,
it is that I barely know any phrases in Farsi.

It’s the hospital on Leros, and the memory I have in my head,
of the doctor with the moustache and the nurse with the hysterical sympathetic laughter,
who treated the child in such a beautiful way,
that I sat there interested,
as if it was a fantastic performance,
I was looking at.

It is that night when a boat arrived from Farmakonisi.
And out came, as always,
exhausted, hungry, wet people.
And we took a number of single women with small children.
While I drove them to the Villa Artemis,
my playlist of songs shuffled,
“Celebration” through the speakers.
And although it sounds brutal, because what is there to celebrate?
There streamed laughter, and singing, joy,
from their moving bodies.
It made it so concrete that humanity is comprised of so much,
hope.

It was the rain that fell making people cold and wet, again,
relocated to the abandoned building in the other camp,
I went upstairs,
I saw only their dark figures lit up by the brightness of the lightning strike which forced it’s way in.
And I did not realize at that moment that this was
reality.

It is that night when my emotions crashed.
They were telling stories,
in words I did not understand,
but with gestures that made the cruelty so clear.
A mother who has lost three of her six children, killed, by
falling bombs.
She got robbed just before they crossed the Aegean sea,
they took everything,
they even took her,
wedding ring.

That same night I saw friends leave with the boat to Athens.
I saw the old Greek man who is everyone’s Grandpa in camp,
wildly waving his arms at the edge of the dock with big tears rolling down,
his cheeks.
Each departure to Athens he stands there.

Later that night I drove back to the villa.
I expected to find them sleeping,
but there they sat in the kitchen,
talking.
When they saw my distorted face,
distorted by grief, separation, injustice,
and the reality that I had experienced in recent weeks,
they all started crying.
And we sat in a ring, with our hands in each other’s hands,
and they prayed,
and I hoped
out loud.

It is the many tears and the generous laughter.
It is so close to the primal,
when the mountains in the sea around me,
are lying like dinosaur bodies.
And the sun makes them warm, and the moon, the sea between them silvery and the lightning renders their background metaphysical.
I swam in the same sea where children and mothers and fathers have died on its way from Turkey to Greece,
but the sea made such an innocent sound in my ears.

One day when life was sitting so heavy in my body,
I saw a large beetle on the stairs and I wished I was it.
And I am almost ashamed to write it,
but in this absurd existence,
where so much is so wrong,
but people’s feelings manifest themselves truthfully,
for nothing else is possible.

And in that combination where the frustration and devastation,
faces the constant beauty of the island
it creates an echoing existential question in my head.

By Ronja de Boer
2015