The team arrives at a permitted food distribution point. Already, in the rain and freezing cold a silent, wretched line of hungry people is forming. Large containers of hot food are quickly unloaded onto trestle tables and the distribution begins –one ladle of rice or potato, one ladle of curry, a serving of salad and tea. It has to be a slick process so that the food does not get cold and because the police allow only one hour for each meal distribution. More and more people come –among the men there are some women and children, unaccompanied children, some very young.
Three of us from Malvern Welcomes are in Calais volunteering with the Refugee Community Kitchen, which is providing hot meals for these refugees who are struggling to survive in grim and desperate conditions.
Many of the refugees in Calais and Dunkirk have fled from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. We spoke to long-term volunteers from Help Refugees and other NGOs who try to monitor the number of refugees who are in Calais and Dunkirk. This is always changing and it is not possible to keep accurate figures. A small number make it to the UK, some go to other countries and many, including children, go missing. There have been 7 known fatalities on the road in the last 2 years.
Abuses of human rights by the CRS (Compagnies republicaines de securite) riot police in Calais have been scrupulously investigated and documented by the well-respected independent international organization, Human Rights Watch in their recent report, ‘Like Living in Hell’
Sadly, this title reflects the desperate situation and brutality which the refugees face daily. They have documented that the CRS ‘routinely use peppers- pray on child and adult migrants while they are sleeping or in other circumstances where they pose no threat; regularly spray or confiscate sleeping bags, blankets and clothing and sometimes use pepper spray on migrant’ food and water. Police disrupt delivery of humanitarian assistance’
It is also common for police to pepper – spray refugees from their vans. When the temperature dropped below 0% in December, temporary shelters was opened up but there were reports that the police pepper sprayed people who were trying to get to these overnight shelters.
A lawyer has now been appointed with the aim of taking action against the police.
We did not witness police brutality at first hand but spoke to many volunteers and aid workers who see this on a regular basis. We were told that there are twice as many police as refugees in Calais.
In sharp contrast, volunteers at the Refugee Community Kitchen, where we were working, miraculously produce and distribute over 2,000 hot meals each day. What they are doing is truly impressive. All the food is cooked from fresh ingredients and much love and care is taken to make the food nutritious and delicious. We were impressed that waste is kept to a minimum. We were struck by the great dedication of the volunteers and the harmonious atmosphere in the kitchen. They are keeping people alive.
The food is provided from donations and great care is taken to avoid waste. Having seen this for ourselves, we can say that any donation made is put to good use. You can find out more here: