By Kathleen O’Brien, a parishioner of Faversham, on her recent trip to Calais
I’ve visited the camp in Calais twice now and seen men queueing by the roadside to receive food and clothes. I was struck by how much more dignified it was for them to be greeted, welcomed and given time to choose shoes that fitted. Before they left, each man was asked whether he needed a blanket or sleeping bag and was handed one from the stack by the far wall.
“Where do the donations come from?” “All over France,” replied Christine, “and some from Belgium and some from the UK.” She estimated the blankets would all be gone by the end of Saturday. Léa explained that, in the months it had taken to gain the necessary permissions to open this facility, donations had built up. Now that it is open, they will soon disappear.
Through Léa, Christine explained that Caritas France (equivalent to CAFOD in England and Wales) is the Catholic Church’s overseas development agency and assists with international emergencies, while Secours Catholique is a bit like CSAN in the UK – dealing with social needs within the country. “Because the refugees are here in Calais, we (Secours Catholique) are helping them.”
“What will happen if the camp is destroyed?” Léa shrugged, “They will disperse and make new camps. They don’t know where to go, where to live. Most want to live in the UK. It is a complex problem. The UK cannot accept everyone.”
Outside, I asked whether anyone spoke English. A tall young man stepped forward and introduced himself as Ahmed from Sudan.
Ahmed had lived on the streets in Italy for a month before hearing that things were better in France. I asked how he had been able to afford a train ticket. “No ticket, no money”, he told me. When the inspector asked for his ticket, then for money, he explained that he had none. The inspector put him off the train at the next station, and Ahmed simply waited for the next train.
He had been in Calais two months and thought that numbers in the camp were growing. He said that there was more food here than in Italy, “lots of organisations for food”, but that there was still not enough. Sometimes it might be two days between meals, but he had eaten last night.
I asked whether he thought that the camp would be destroyed. He said he hoped that the ordinary people would fight the government and it would not happen.
Ahmed told me he had left Sudan because it was not safe for him to be there. “My parents are still in Sudan. I ring them sometimes when someone gives me a phone.” Ahmed said, “If I could I would stay in France.” He had begun the application process for asylum but said it was not easy: “I just want protection”. He concluded: “If my country became peaceful, I’d go to my country.”
The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.