Volunteer in Calais

Three trips have been planned for this term

action Calais Cambridge CUCRAG group Refugee volunteer

Last weekend ten Cambridge students travelled to Calais to help volunteer in the refugee crisis, on the first trip of the Cambridge University Calais Refugee Action Group.  We were working alongside CalAid, a charity based in Calais, which has received large numbers of donations but does not have enough volunteers to sort through them and bring them to the six thousand refugees who currently live in the Calais camps. Over the next few months, we in CUCRAG are organizing multiple trips to Calais in order to help fill this manpower need.

From the refugee camps, it is possible to see both the neat and prosperous suburbs of Calais, and the white cliffs of Dover. The camp itself, however, is a place outside any legal or national frameworks, where people live in some of the most squalid conditions to be found in Europe, entirely reliant on the (sometimes haphazard) support of a few British and French charities and the continuing flow of donations from across Europe. As Cambridge students, we may not have much spare time on our hands, but even a few weekends during term can help, in its own small way, to make a difference.

To give a sense of our activities in Calais last weekend and the ways we are able to be helpful: during our two days of volunteering all ten of us spent some time going through the vast backlog of donations, which are piled high in the middle of the CalAid warehouse. We were separating the less practical items (high heels, a wedding dress, contact lenses) from those that were of immediate use. The group also made a number of distribution runs, driving large amounts of donations to the camps and distributing them to the refugees. For example, three Cambridge volunteers gave away approximately 150 coats in an afternoon. Overall, our group was involved in four such distributions, providing socks, hats, jackets, T-shirts, toiletries, firewood and food, in addition to the coats.

A number of volunteers also remained in the warehouse, helping to construct shelters that might afford better protection than a tent in the cold, damp winter. Made of six major parts, easy to transport to the camps for assembly on site, the shelters are insulated and windowless, 3 metres wide by 4 metres long. Though very far from ideal, the shelters are capable of housing four or so people and are much cleaner, safer, and warmer than the tents that are used by most people in the camps. Over the course of the weekend, the Cambridge volunteers were involved in constructing ten shelters and assembling four on site.

Cambridge University Calais Refugee Action Group’s next two trips to Calais are planned for the weekends of 13th-15th and 27th-29th November, with a longer third trip planned for Christmas break. We shall be travelling to Calais from Cambridge, in our own rented transportation, and booking accommodation in a local Calais youth hostel. If you would be interested in taking part in these trips, please sign up here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1eHgENG_meI-TOk9SrKBqNu_hopKiMrBcWQcGew8xH1A/viewform. You can join the event on FB here: https://www.facebook.com/events/466184470231709/

If you have any questions, or would like to sign up to our mailing list, please send an email to [email protected].

We are looking forward to volunteering with some of you in the coming weeks and months in order to help, in what way we can, the refugees so near to home.