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Monday, 2 May 2016

Report on BARAC Humanitarian Aid April distribution in Calais ; Thank you for your support

BARAC's most recent humanitarian aid and solidarity visit to Calais took place last weekend.

Just a few weeks after our March distribution even more of the 'camp' had been bulldozed and cleared. An area near the art school which we had visited in March which was full of tents and structures and families living was beyond recognition.

Our transport and travel in April was sponsored by ASLEF the Train Drivers union to whom we are very grateful.

ASLEF has also donated to our Go Fund Me also towards aid.

We have just received sponsorship for our next distribution travel and transport by Global Justice Now. Our thanks to Director Nick Deardon. 

We are delighted that this year's TUC Black Workers Conference raised £1500 for BARAC Humanitarian Aid through its annual fundraising dance and a motion at the conference moved by the Public and Commercial Services Union called on affiliates and the TUC to support humanitarian aid efforts such as BARAC's,  The motion was carried unanimously. 

Our travel across the channel was not without the usual racial profiling and scrutiny by border authorities.  In the past we have been stopped and searched, delayed, detained, police checked, asked if we are the same people coming back as went out, told that if we are let into France we could get to Turkey and cross the border to Syria.

On this occasion we were asked if we had any 'knives or weapons'. When we responded that we did not, our vehicle was searched with particular scrutiny and attention given to sanitary towels we were taking for women in the camp.  Presumably this is where they thought we kept the knives and weapons. 

As if that was not bad enough, our driver, Hector Wesley, the only black man in our team on this occasion was body scanned. 

No other vehicles received such scrutiny and nobody else was body scanned.

On the way back our vehicle was searched and the authorities searched under my legs to see if I had hidden somebody there.

Police barriers surrounded all entrances to the camp.

As we entered the Eritrean church was like an oasis in a desert. The  burned out frameworks of  structures and items scattered across the earth that were there just a few weeks ago were now gone. 

Despite there being very few tents around, we  decided to distribute some food to the people staying near to the church and there was soon a line. Some young boys asked us for footballs and biscuits.

We distributed at two points, near the church and near the art school. We took food for communities in the camp in bulk form and also made up packs of essential items, toiletries and food.  We had packs for children with books, toys and snacks and baby and women's products. 

After our first distribution, we visited the school where English and French lessons for adults were taking place. We met with some people who were volunteering at the school and gave them the children's packs to distribute for  when children attended during the week.

We then visited the art school and took some supplies and met with some artists based in the camp and looked at the art they had produced.  

We distributed our second lot of aid and then went to the Women's Centre to take feminine hygiene products.

After that we visited with some young Sudanese brothers who welcomed us with kind hospitality, bringing us chairs  and making us coffee. We spoke with them at length about their experiences, their journeys to get to France through several countries and for some the journey had taken years,  some had lost their parents and  when we told them about the work of BARAC in the UK in campaigning against injustice and racism they told us that they would like to join us when they got to the UK which of course we very much welcomed.  Ironically for one of the young brothers we spoke with,  before leaving his home, his job had been supporting refugees,  not expecting that he himself would become a refugee.  One young man told me that my headwrap was the exact same print his mother wore and that she even tied hers the same way.  Most of the  people we have met over the past several months in Calais are young enough to be our children and myself and other women in our team have reminded them of their mothers. 

Over the past few months we have distributed our aid with our sisters and brothers stuck in the 'camp' , the lead brother

coordinating from the camp is Samer who ran the library and other community projects.  Each time I leave I say to him see you next time but next time I really hope you are no longer here and it was too our joy to discover a few days before from Samer that he was now in the UK. We wish Samer all the luck in the world and a positive new start and look forward to meeting up with him in more positive circumstances. We thank him for his community spirit in supporting and helping others. 

To support our humanitarian aid work you can donate here  or directly to BARAC. We are also seeking sponsors for transport and travel and you can take items to our drop off point at PCS HQ.

Contact us at for further info.

Thank you to all who have supported our sisters and brothers stuck in limbo to date.

Zita Holbourne

National Co-Chair BARAC UK

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