Calais: In their shoes

By Kathleen O’Brien, a parishioner of Faversham, on her visit to the clothes distribution centre in Calais

A short journey

As my parish in Kent is closer to France than London, I feel that the Calais refugees are my next door neighbours. So, this Monday, after hearing that CSAN’s sister agency Secours Catholique had opened a new facility to assist migrants, myself and a fellow parishioner, Marie, set off to investigate.

When we rolled off the Dover ferry in France, our supposedly European sat nav refused to cooperate: “Calais? Would that be in Surrey, Northampton or Wales?” Fortunately the facility at 39 Rue de Moscou turned out to be only two streets from the port.

The Migrant Relief locker room

Secours Catholique has volunteers on hand to receive donations on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2-5pm. We’d chosen to visit on a Monday which also coincided with a distribution of footwear. As we arrived at the warehouse, or ‘Migrant Relief locker room’, men were gathering at the gate.

We passed a small van parked in front of the open doors and two volunteers unloading boxes of donations. Inside, others were busy sorting clothes into organised-looking piles in different parts of the space. There was a sense of efficiency and purpose. We added our donation to the ‘in tray’ then went through to the far end of the warehouse.

The locker room

Here a rudimentary free ‘shop’ had been set up. Four volunteers stood behind a counter made of two tables. Behind them, shoulder height racks of footwear, mainly trainers, were arranged by size. Beyond the glass entrance door, we could see a number of young men on a row of chairs in the courtyard, patiently awaiting their turn.

The volunteer manager, Christine, a small, softly-spoken woman with a quiet authority, stood by the entrance. When we apologetically asked, “Do you speak English?” she called over her granddaughter, Léa, a lively young woman in her twenties. Léa speaks very good English and told me that she is a law student, helping at the warehouse until term starts next week.

As we watched migrants and refugees having their feet measured and being handed shoes to try on, Léa told me that they were expecting about 100 people today but on Saturday, when clothes are distributed, there will be 300—400 people. Even with today’s comparatively small distribution of footwear, Léa believed that the warehouse would have run out of some sizes by the end of the day.

The views expressed in this blog are not CSAN policy.