20th Anniversary Celebrations, Sunday 15th May
3rd Dunkirk Trip, Saturday 30 April 2016
Groups of people from SWITM (and friends family members) have now travelled to Dunkirk 3 times to take supplies and support the refugees on our borders. The media coverage of the Refugee crisis throughout Europe has done much to dehumanise vulnerable and dispossessed people.
Our initial visit took tents and winter clothing in October, with a return trip of more of the same in November, as conditions worsened and the camp turned into a mudbath. Our third trip was to visit the newly built camp. The camp had more than doubled in size, and conditions were very unpleasant.
We took a van and three cars filled with detergents, washing up liquid, torches, batteries, men’s and ladies and children’s underwear and socks, milk and babies nappies. We also took huge saucepans, and a variety of other donated items.
On arrival at the warehouse Mark, Harry and Bev were pleasantly surprised to see the transformation that had taken place since our last visit. Goods were placed in labelled cages ready for distribution and a team of volunteers had the sorting down to an art. Andy, his son Rob and I went on ahead to the camp where we were asked to sign up at the Utopia 56 desk. I was sent straight to the kitchen.
The chefs were refugees who were chefs in their own right, both previously being restaurant owners. I spent 2 hours peeling potatoes, then was immediately put to work chopping tomatoes, peppers and onions. The kitchen was very busy with a changing team of volunteers coming and going all the time. I was given a rice and bean meal, it was delicious, and while taking a short break, caught up with Mark, Harry and Bev. Harry had been talking to volunteers trying to arrange some children’s activities for the summer while Mark and Bev were socialising with refugees prior to leaving for their journey home.
On arrival Andy and Rob had been asked to go to the ‘cycle workshop’ area. There were about 30 donated bikes waiting to be repaired but nothing at all to use for the job! So, then they were put on construction work for the rest of the day working till 6.30 pm.
I had a number of lengthy conversations with the refugees many of whom are well educated and speak immaculate English. They were immensely grateful for all the help they are receiving but also incredibly sad at their plight.
The Camp is much, much better than we had seen before with tent Cafes, (all free food) queues for food, and open eating areas with benches and tables. No more plastic or tents for housing but wooden huts, although Andy said they need proper waterproofing as the rain can get in. Children and a few men were riding bikes, and a couple of ‘shops’ had sprung up selling coca cola etc. There was a children’s play area with a swing and a school and women’s centre.
Volunteers are well managed but overall, except for the children, I sensed an air of hopelessness.