Dream of the UK: Refugees in northern France

Setting up services
Volunteers set up services for refugees in northern France

As the Care4Calais volunteers set up to distribute jumpers to refugees in northern France, R comes over to say hi. It’s lovely to see the likeable 23-year-old Kurdish man again after 3 months. ‘Mama!’ he calls – a joke from last time when he found out I was volunteering alongside my daughter. He’s exactly the same age as she is. Now, he shows me photos of his family, and his sister even looks quite like her.

Care4Calais volunteers
Care4Calais volunteers from London and Brighton (Ruby Cardona)

A sense of failure

Although it’s great to talk, for R, meeting us again drives home his sense of failure. His friends have made it to the UK and he’s still trapped in northern France. I don’t ask how his friends travelled. They probably risked their lives in the stormy Channel in flimsy dinghies. Right now, we’re experiencing hailstorms and 55-mph gusts of wind. I secretly hope that R waits until spring brings calmer waters before attempting to reach the UK to make his legal claim for asylum.

Coming from Britain, I am angry that refugees have to risk their lives to make a legitimate claim for sanctuary. And I am angry about the government’s isolationist stance and determination to reduce migration.

Hoping for safety

But the dream of the UK is still alive and kicking among all the refugee groups we meet. They are mostly Sudanese, Kurdish and Afghan people fleeing conflict or persecution. The 3 per cent of refugees in Europe that try to reach the UK usually have connections there. Their relatives or friends who have made it to England generally feel safer since reaching our shores. And they are no longer living rough in freezing temperatures. One man comes to the refreshments table. He touches the £ sign on a £1.19 pack of digestive biscuits and puts his finger to his lips to kiss it. ‘I love the UK’ he smiles.

Donations in C4C warehouse
Donations in the Care4Calais warehouse for distribution

Refugees welcome

Having volunteered a few times with Care4Calais, I see that their work is vital. They bring clothes, equipment, refreshments and a chance for normal social interaction. But as founder Clare Moseley explains, we can’t do this forever. We really need to challenge our government’s hostile narrative about refugees and migrants and stop demonising people for wanting a better life. With an ageing population, the UK needs young, resilient, resourceful people who are keen to work hard and are committed to their new home. Some of these people are refugees in northern France. Rather than shunning their offer, we should welcome it.

Migration is not a crime
A Care4Calais motto (Ruby Cardona)

6 thoughts on “Dream of the UK: Refugees in northern France”

  1. Well done Cath and Ruby and all the other helpers. You’re work there is invaluable. I look up to people like you.

  2. Great to hear about your experience, Cath, thank you. I’m hoping to volunteer soon and reading your story inspires me more to do it!

  3. So lovely and important that you and Ruby regularly go out there, and have developed rapport with individuals, albeit also sad and infuriating that people stay there for so long.

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